The case of Perez v. Cumba involved a premises liability claim, alleging that a Connecticut homeowner was negligent and legally responsible for wrongful death arising from the fatal stabbing of a social invitee at the hands of a third party. The victim was killed in a fight at a birthday party for the homeowner's 15-year-old daughter.
The administratrix of the decedent's estate brought a wrongful death action against the homeowner. The jury found in favor of the homeowner; the trial court entered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict.
On appeal, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed and ordered the case sent back to the trial court for a new trial. The Appellate Court ruled that the trial court's instructions to the jury were improper and inherently misleading and thus harmful to the plaintiff's case. The jury instructions departed from Connecticut law, said the Appellate Court, because they required the plaintiff to prove that the homeowner had specific notice that a person on her property possessed a knife and was willing to use it to inflict injury on the victim.
The facts and the ruling
The homeowner hosted the birthday party at her residence in East Hartford. Although she originally told her daughter that she could invite up to 10 friends, almost 50 high school teenagers attended, along with the decedent . Due to the larger-than-expected crowd, the homeowner called other adults to help chaperone. Despite this, a fight broke out involving several guests. The homeowner intervened and was able to stop that particular fight. Later, upon learning that the decedent had just arrived at the party, the homeowner was concerned that the decedent might start a fight. The homeowner removed the decedent from her premises and took him across the street to a bus stop, but a group of six to eight individuals followed. The decedent got into an argument with the group, and reentered the homeowner's property. The confrontation escalated. The homeowner tried to diffuse the situation by threatening to call the police and telling them all to leave her property. The group moved past the homeowner and chased the decedent to the front of her neighbor's yard, where a fight ensued and the decedent was fatally stabbed.
The Appellate Court examined the specifics of the plaintiff's legal pleading and determined that the plaintiff was not asserting a traditional defective premises theory of recovery. Rather, said the court, the plaintiff's claim was instead based on a theory of social invitee liability arising from the intentional and criminal acts of a third party, which meant that the doctrine of "superseding cause" was implicated in the case. The court stated that the homeowner had a duty to exercise reasonable care and control to protect its invitees from dangers which might reasonably be anticipated to arise from the conditions of the premises or the activities taking place there. In order to show that the intentional criminal acts of the third parties who had committed the stabbing were not a "superseding cause" of the decedent's death, said the court, the plaintiff was required to prove that the decedent's death was a foreseeable result of homeowner's alleged failure to exercise proper control over the party.
Individuals who have been injured, and grieving families who have sustained the loss of a loved one, due to another's negligence or other wrongful conduct are urged to immediately seek the assistance of a competent attorney experienced in personal injury and wrongful death matters.