Law Review: Liability for assault in shopping center?
Today’s case involves premises liability. When are property owners responsible for incidents that occur on their property including criminal attacks?
PARKING LOT ASSAULT
The Freemont Corners Shopping Center in Sunnyvale houses approximately 16 retail stores, including the Peacock Lounge which as the name suggests is a bar. Tayler Williams is a drummer who performed at the bar, finishing the band’s set around 1:30 a.m. on April 1, 2012.
Williams and a friend went outside to the parking lot, when they returned, they noticed a man urinating on the sidewalk outside the front door of the Lounge. Someone called out “not cool” to the man, who responded belligerently. A group of unidentified males calmed him down.
After Williams returned to the bar, he saw through an open door that his friend was being pummeled on the ground by the man who had been urinating. Williams yelled “security” and went outside screaming “I’m not fighting,” “stop” as he approached but was hit on the side of the head by an unknown assailant. Williams suffered serious injuries.
SUIT AGAINST FREMONT CORNERS
Williams sued the Fremont Corners Shopping Center for negligence and premises liability claiming the owners had a duty to discover unsafe conditions in its Center including the harmful acts of third parties that might injure patrons. The Corners owners argued they had no duty to protect Williams from the conduct of third parties. Of course.
Landowners in California are required to maintain their land in a reasonably safe condition … an obligation to exercise reasonable care for the safety of others. Whatever “reasonable” is.
For landlords, the general duty owed to tenants and patrons is “the duty to take reasonable steps to secure common areas against foreseeable criminal acts of third parties that are likely to occur in the absence of such precautionary measures.”
Williams presented evidence that minor alterations at the Center had occurred. Fremont Corners documented that the Peacock Lounge had a bouncer and no similar incident had occurred at or outside the Lounge.
The Sixth Appellate District Court of Appeal wrote: “a general knowledge of the possibility of violent criminal conduct is not in itself enough to create a duty under California law to hire a guard.”
The Court concluded: “In sum, absent admissible evidence of ‘prior similar incidents or other indications of a reasonably foreseeable risk of violent criminal assaults,’ Williams has not carried his burden in opposing the motion for summary judgment to establish that Fremont Corners had a legal duty to implement additional measures to uncover incidents of criminal acts on the premises and to secure the premises against future, possible third-party conduct.”
The Court of Appeal balanced the history of relatively minor previous bar fights around the Lounge with the significant expense of hiring security guards for the Center.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.
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