Fireworks 'fun' could cost group for fire


Dear John,

The other night I had my friends over for a party. We had a lot of alcohol and got a bit rowdy. I don’t know who suggested it, but someone came up with the idea of shooting off the rest of the fireworks from the Fourth of July.

Before you know it, we were running around the yard with those fountains chasing one another. It was fun and hilarious, until the neighbor’s fence caught fire.

We managed to put the fire out, but there is about a 4-foot section of the fence that needs replacing. I think my buddy should pay because he is the one who was running around with the fountain. My buddy thinks I should pay because I hosted the party.

Meanwhile, my neighbor is yelling about suing me for everything I own because his house could have burned down. What do I do?

Sincerely, Drunk Dave


Dear Dave,

Your neighbor should be “made whole.” This means that any damage he suffered should be fixed. If he incurs expenses, such as attorney’s fees, those may also be recoverable. Determining which person in your group should pay is another issue.

Generally, a social host does not owe a duty for damages done by their intoxicated guests. However, this does not mean that you won’t be named in a lawsuit. Some people believe that when the perpetrator of a wrong is a member of a group and the group members remain silent, no one can be held accountable for damages. This belief is inaccurate.

Your neighbor needs to establish he sustained damage and then show that it was caused by your group. He does not need to prove which member caused it.

You and your friend seemed to have been acting together by chasing one another with fountains. It does not matter whose fountain actually started the fire. So, you and the rest of your group would probably each be found liable for the entire amount of the damage.

This means that your neighbor could collect the entire amount from you and nothing from your friends or a bit from each of you. You and your friends can argue about who has to pay what part of the whole.

I hope you and your buddies will find a safer way to spend your time.


John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only. Any information given is to illustrate basic legal concepts and does not state how any court would decide any matter. Have a question? Ask John at


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