Harper v. Herman – Case Brief
Harper v. Herman, 499 N.W.2d 472 (Minn. 1993).
Facts: Harper (P) was one of four guests on Herman’s (D) boat. Harper and Herman did not know each other prior to the outing and Harper had been invited by another guest. Herman took the group to a popular recreation spot with which he was familiar. D asked if P was “going in”. P said yes and dove into two or three feet of water unannounced. P severed his spinal cord rendering him a quadriplegic. P sued D and the trial court granted summary judgment for D. P appealed and the judgment was reversed. D appealed.
Issue: What duty does a social host owe to a guest?
Holding and Rule: A special relationship is required for an affirmative duty to exist. Under the Restatement (Second) of Torts, a special relationship can be found when that other person is deprived of normal opportunities of self-protection, and under this rule, this special relationship could only exist if Herman had custody of Harper under circumstances in which Harper was deprived of normal opportunities to protect himself. In this case the court found that the record did not establish that Harper had been either particularly vulnerable or that he had lacked the ability to protect himself.
From the Restatement (Second) of Torts: There are many dangers, such as those of fire and water, which under ordinary conditions may reasonably be expected to be fully understood and appreciated by any child. If a child is expected to understand the inherent dangers of water, so should a 20-year-old adult.
Disposition: Judgment for D reinstated – reversed and remanded.