How Not to Cook

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Q: My daughter and I were attending a backyard barbeque, given by our friends, who are tenants of an apartment building.  Another guest was emptying hot cooking oil into a storm drain while still another poured water from a garden hose onto the grate of the drain.  The oil came in contact with the water.  The result was fire and steam.

Prior to the party, the building’s superintendent had given our friends permission to hold it.  Our friends say that they specifically told the superintendent that the barbecue would include the fryer from which the oil eventually came.  The party was attended by a lot of people.

The fryer was a two-foot-high metal cooking pot.  It sat on a burner and tri-pod standing eight inches off the ground.  A big propane tank was attached to the fryer by a hose and provided fuel to heat the pot.  To cook in the deep fryer, a large amount of cooking oil must be heated in the pot to a very high temperature.  My friends say that eight gallons of oil were being heated to a boil.

The superintendent had permitted the garden hose, for tending the fryer.  He even unraveled the hose and turned on the water.

A: A landowner has a duty to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to third parties, the potential seriousness of the injury and the burden of avoiding the risk.  In order to recover damages for an alleged breach of this duty, the plaintiff must first demonstrate that the defendant created or had actual or constructive notice of the hazardous condition which precipitated the injury.  The plaintiff must also show that the defendant’s negligence was a proximate cause of the injuries.  To do so, the negligence must be a substantial cause of the events which produced the injury.

It appears that the landlord, by allowing the fryer to be used and providing the water source, breached its duty to maintain the premises in a safe condition, proximately causing this tragedy.

It was foreseeable that some accident could occur, resulting from contact between hot oil and the water – whether by oil spilling out of the fryer, the fryer falling over or, as here, the oil’s being poured into the nearby drain.  A jury could reasonably find that the landlord should have anticipated that such a tragedy could occur.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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