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Harper v. Herman

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Harper (Plaintiff) was seriously injured when he dove from Herman’s (Defendant) boat into shallow water. Plaintiff sued, claiming that Defendant had a duty to warn him that the water was shallow.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A boat owner does not owe a social guest a duty to warn him that the water is too shallow for diving when the guest has the ability to protect himself.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff was invited to sail on Defendant’s sailboat along with three other guests. Defendant dropped anchor in a shallow area in order to allow his guests to swim to a nearby island. Plaintiff, a twenty year-old male, dove into the shallow water, hitting the bottom and seriously injuring himself. Plaintiff sued Defendant, claiming that Defendant had a duty to warn Plaintiff that the water was shallow. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant, finding that Defendant had no such duty to warn. The court of appeals reversed, holding that Defendant assumed a duty to warn when he invited guests onto his boat. Defendant appealed.

    Issue.

    Does a boat owner owe a duty to warn a social guest that water is too shallow for diving when the guest has the ability to protect himself?

    Held.

    (Page, J.) No. A boat owner does not owe a social guest a duty to warn him that the water is too shallow for diving when the guest has the ability to protect himself. A duty might arise in a situation where the guest does not have the ability to protect himself, but Plaintiff was a twenty year-old adult and was capable of protecting himself from such a hazard. Defendant did not maintain control over Plaintiff’s welfare or receive financial gain from having him on the boat, so he did not have a duty to warn Plaintiff that the water was shallow. Reversed and judgment for Defendant reinstated.

    Discussion.

    In common law, an individual generally has not duty toward another person unless some type of special relationship exists. An exception is found when the individual put the other person in danger in the first place, or when the individual begins to help the other person. Plaintiff in this case tried to argue that because Defendant was a host and had knowledge of the water depth, a duty to warn was created.



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