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Who is responsible when something happens to a guest during a social gathering? Toledo, Ohio personal injury attorney Dale Emch discusses the liability surrounding property owners in his most recent “Legal Briefs” column found in the Toledo Blade. “Legal Briefs” is a question and answer column, covering such legal topics as personal injury, workers’ compensation, dog bites, and trucking accidents.

Dear Dale: A family member recently decided to become a back-yard beekeeper and bought several beehives. His wife, who likes to give frequent back-yard parties during the summer, is concerned that if a guest or even a neighbor in his own yard gets badly stung, her family could be sued. The family has debated this and we all have differing opinions as to what the responsibility would be in this case. What kind of laws, if any, apply in a case like this?

Answer: First of all, it’s not illegal under state law for someone to keep bees in a neighborhood setting. The beekeeper just has to register with the director of agriculture before the first of June of each year. I’ve got no clue whether any zoning regulations would prevent keeping the hive in certain areas, but I tend to doubt it.

As to the issue of liability, a host does not have a duty to protect a social guest from all harm. The only thing the host has to do is exercise ordinary care so that his guest isn’t injured by an act or dangerous condition on the property.

The host must warn the guest of any condition that the host should reasonably consider dangerous if the guest doesn’t know about the danger and could not discover it on his own.

In this case, the first issue really is whether a beehive counts as a dangerous condition. That probably depends on the situation. If the hive were naturally occurring and the owner didn’t know about it, there would be no liability to a guest who was stung.

Here, though, the hive is being purposely placed on the property. Depending on where in the yard it’s located, it’s reasonable to assume that a bunch of bees could create a dangerous condition if they were located near a place where guests tend to gather.

While I realize that the bees probably won’t hurt anyone, it probably would be smart to post a sign near the hive to warn people it’s there. It also wouldn’t hurt to verbally warn guests about the beehive so they can make the decision about whether to stick around in the yard. If the goal here is to avoid liability, warning guests about the hive would provide pretty good protection. Whether or not it’s wise to have a hive located in close proximity to people, especially if there will be recreational activities going on nearby, is a call for your family member to make.

One other issue you may want to consider is whether the bees would constitute a nuisance to neighbors. Again, it depends on the specifics of the situation. If the hive is located in such a way that the bees have to fly directly over your neighbors’ picnic table or pool on the way to doing their bee thing, I could see a nuisance complaint. The test would be if the hive interfered with the neighbors’ use and enjoyment of their land.

In one case I found – and there weren’t many, which leads me to believe this hasn’t been much of an issue for beekeepers over the years – a beekeeper was found to have created a nuisance because the bees he kept near a neighbor’s property tended to hang around the neighbor’s pond so they could drink the water. A number of people, including kids, had been stung and the neighbor contended that his use of his property had been diminished. He won and the bees had to be moved.

Hopefully, your family member’s bees won’t bother anyone and he’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of his new hobby. Maybe having some background on some of the basic legal issues will provide some peace of mind.

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