When preparing for a fundraiser, you understandably have lots on your mind. You have to coordinate food, RSVPs, and plan the event. However, if you are using something potentially dangerous, such as a propane barbecue, you also need to ensure you take reasonable steps to inspect it for any potential defects. Otherwise, you could be liable for injuries you or others suffer.
John Palir III was a pastor at Topsy United Pentecostal Church. A week before the church’s barbecue fundraiser, he and a deacon at the church were trying to light the barbecue pit on a barbecue trailer the church owned. When the deacon pressed the pilot button, Palir lit it with a lighter wand. That resulted in a ball of fire that blew Palir out of the trailer, where he hit the deacon’s grandson, who was standing nearby at the time of the explosion. Palir filed a lawsuit against the church and its insurer, GuideOne Insurance Company.
At trial, Palir moved to exclude any instruction to the jury about him being liable for the explosion. The trial court allowed the church to present evidence of Palir’s negligence but not about whether Palir knew or should have known the barbecue trailer was defective or hazardous under La. C.C. art. 2317.1. At trial, the jury held Palir was 50% at fault, and the church was also 50% at fault. The jury also found the barbecue trailer was in the Church’s custody, it presented an unreasonable risk of harm to Palir, and the church knew or should have known about its defect. Palir appealed, arguing the jury erred in assigning him 50% of the fault.
The appellate court noted at trial witnesses had testified no one else had previously experienced any issues with the barbecue trailer. No church member was responsible for maintaining the barbecue trailer, although people would clean it and fill its propane tank as needed.
An expert in propane delivery systems testified the barbecue trailer did not comply with applicable codes and was deteriorating. There appeared to be a lack of maintenance. Palir testified if he had known or had an idea anything was wrong with the barbecue trailer, he would not have used it. He also admitted he did not have expertise in propane delivery systems.
The appellate court found the evidence supported the jury’s assignment of 50% of the fault to Palir because a jury could conclude Palir should have had the barbecue trailer regularly inspected and serviced. The appellate court noted Palir had been the assistant pastor at the church when the barbecue trailer was gifted to the church decades ago, so he was aware of the age. It was reasonable to find Palir negligent for having failed to have it inspected. His expert testified that even someone without propane system expertise could have noticed the barbecue trailer’s poor condition.
When organizing a fundraiser or any event involving potentially dangerous elements, such as a propane barbecue, ensuring safety measures are in place is paramount. The case of John Palir III and the barbecue trailer explosion is a stark reminder of the importance of diligent inspection and maintenance. The appellate court’s ruling, affirming the jury’s allocation of fault, emphasizes the duty of event organizers to take reasonable steps in preventing potential hazards. Seeking legal counsel in such unfortunate incidents can provide valuable guidance and help navigate potential liability issues. Prioritizing safety and proactively identifying and addressing risks are crucial to protect yourself, your guests, and your organization from potential harm and legal consequences.
Additional Sources: John Palir, III v. GuideOne Insur. Co., et al.
Article Written By Berniard Law Firm
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