Mother may be liable for stabbing incident at teenage birthday party

An individual injured or killed at a party due to the negligence of a host may be entitled to compensation, even if a third party other than the host had a hand in the injuries.

The Connecticut Appellate Court discussed this principle in the case of Perez v. Cumba, where a teenage birthday party led to a tragic death.

A teenage birthday ends with a stabbing

The victim was attending a birthday party in East Hartford for a 15-year-old girl hosted by the girl's mother at her home. Although the mother had told the daughter she could invite five to 10 friends, approximately 50 high school teenagers attended, including the victim.

A fight occurred in the mother's basement, which escalated into harsh words between the victim and a group of other teenagers in the front yard. While the mother was present, this further escalated into the victim being chased into the front of the neighbor's house, where the victim was fatally stabbed.

The family of the victim brought a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging, among other things, that the victim was a social guest and the mother had failed to properly supervise the party.

The court provided detailed instructions to the jury, telling the jury that the victim's family needed to prove that the mother had notice of the specific dangerous condition which caused the victim's death; specifically, that one of the assailants possessed a knife. The jury found against the victim, and the victim's family appealed this decision.

Was the mother negligent?

The Connecticut Appellate Court held that this was not a complaint based on some known "dangerous condition" on the premises, but, rather, was one based on social invitee liability arising from intentional acts of the guests. The victim's family had argued that the mother failed in various ways to exercise reasonable care and control to protect the victim from the dangers posed by the other guests at the party.

The mother had failed to act to control the fight and the conduct of the social guests that assaulted the victim, when such physical violence was reasonably foreseeable. It was thus incumbent on the court to provide jury instructions that were adapted to the issues of this case.

The lower court had improperly elevated the burden of proof and departed from Connecticut law by offering an instruction that suggested that the mother must have had notice that a guest possessed a knife in order to be liable. Therefore, the verdict against the victim's family was reversed due to that erroneous jury instruction and a new trial was ordered. The victim's family would have another chance to make their case.

The negligent and intentional acts of others

If you have lost a family member due to the negligent or intentional actions of another, you should speak with an attorney with the experience and compassion to help you recover the compensation to which you are entitled. Seek representation from a firm that has successfully handled many wrongful death lawsuits and has an in-depth understanding of Connecticut's wrongful death statute.