When I was in college I used to house sit for my parents when they left town on various vacations. Though I was a responsible young adult, I did indulge in the occasional backyard BBQ-turned-pool party extravaganza. Being young and naïve I never really considered the implications of having a bunch of less than mature cohorts hanging around my childhood home doing who knows what. Recently I came across a story that opened my eyes to what could have been had things gone awry at one of my summertime “get-togethers” once upon a time…

Party Guest Fell into Fire

Lauren Bucaro, a former Illinois State University student, while attending a backyard barn dance party at a farm in Lexington owned by farmer Sam Payne fell into a fire and was badly burned. The farm party was sponsored by the University’s Gamma Phi Beta sorority and approximately 200 students were in attendance, many of which arrived by bus. After this terrible mishap, Bucaro is now suing the farm owner, the sorority, and the liquor store that supplied the alcohol that evening, for more than $50,000 in damages.

According to police reports, Bucaro had a blood alcohol level of 0.145 percent, which is almost twice the legal limit for driving. According to Payne, Bucaro “climbed on top of a burning fire and posed for a picture for her boyfriend” which resulted in the fall and subsequent burns. “How is that my fault?” said Payne.

Since the incident Payne has chosen to no longer host such parties, but maintains a business hosting graduation and wedding events.

As for the sorority and the liquor store, well neither were available for comment though interestingly enough this isn’t the first time that the liquor store has been in trouble with the law. Last year both the owner and manager plead guilty to selling alcohol without the proper county-issued license.

Premise Liability Claim - Unsafe Conditions

The main thrust of the premise liability theory lawsuit accused Payne of failure to provide proper security and safety measures for guests of the event and also alleges that he created “a dangerous condition on the premises by growing the bonfire so big that it became unsafe and dangerous for his guests.” Also the sorority is accused of failing to provide a sufficient amount of “event monitors” for the party.

Despite the fact that my innocent summer pool party’s and backyard barbeques never rose to this magnitude, this is certainly eye opening to the world of premises liability. Going to law school has really forced me to look at everything from a legal perspective, especially where liability is concerned. I am a bit older and certainly wiser at this point in my life, but this story just goes to show that terrible accidents can happen in the blink of an eye even with those involved acting with care.

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