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Commonwealth v. Welansky

Scott Caron

ProfessorScott Caron

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CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

Commonwealth v. Welansky

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Brief Fact Summary. Before the deadly blaze which erupted in the night, Welansky (D), owner of a nightclub failed to proffer solutions to curtail the serious fire hazards which existed.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

But where, as in the present case, there is a duty of care for the safety of business visitors invited to premises which the defendant controls, wanton or reckless conduct may consist of intentional failure to take such care in disregard of the probable harmful consequences to them or of their right to care.

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Facts. the access to the Boston nightclub which was owned by Welansky (D) was limited, with just a main entrance door and few emergency exits which were either blocked or barred. The nightclub was structured in this way to prevent dinner patrons from leaving without paying. The night the fire broke dozens of patrons and employees were killed because the fire spread quickly and escape was difficult. Welansky (D) was charged to court where he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, but he appealed.

Issue. the conviction of manslaughter may be based on omissions as well as affirmative acts.

Held. (Lummus, J.) Yes. The conviction of manslaughter may be based on omissions as well as on affirmative acts. Wanton or reckless conduct which results in homicide are what constitute involuntary manslaughter. In this case, Welansky (D) was duty bound to provide safety for his patrons. This failure of his was found by the jury to have gone beyond negligence into recklessness. The record is in agreement with the numerous safety hazards that existed in the club. The ruling of the trial court was affirmed.

Discussion. Among jurisdictions for supporting manslaughter, the “wanton and reckless” standard is a common one. It is worse than a mere failure to act reasonably, but this does not mean that it portrays an intentional conduct. It is often referred to as a conscious disregard of a determined risk.

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