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Shopping Center Liable for Assault in its Parking Lot?

On the evening of March 31, 2012, Plaintiff Williams was a drummer performing at a bar known as the Peacock Lounge.  After Williams’ band finished playing, around 1:30 a.m., Williams and a friend went out to the parking lot to get something from their car.  As they returned, they saw a patron from the bar urinating in one of the outside planters.  They informed this patron that doing so was “not cool.”  He responded by attacking Williams’ friend.  Williams intervened and was, himself, attacked and knocked unconscious.  While the attack was occurring, Williams and his friend called for help from the security personnel at the Peacock Lounge – the attack happened 15-25 feet from the bar entrance.  Williams suffered a dislocated left knee and several torn ligaments.  He filed suit against the attackers, the bar and Fremont Corners, the owner of the shopping center where the attack occurred.

Fremont Corners argued that they were not responsible for Williams’ injuries as the assault was not reasonably foreseeable. It further argued that it was unaware of any prior similar incidents in the bar or at the shopping center.  In opposition, Williams presented evidence of 5 recent police reports of assault on the property, including an assault on August 13, 2011, a battery with serious bodily injury on September 4, 2011, and a physical altercation on October 8, 2011 which resulted in a broken jaw for the victim.  Williams further argued that the landowners had a duty to exercise reasonable care to discovery unsafe conditions on the property, including the duty to anticipate criminal conduct of a third person, citing Delgado v. Trax Bar & Grill (2005) 36 Cal. 4th 224.  Williams further introduced testimony of Fremont’s property manager’s personal knowledge of two prior criminal incidents on the property.

The trial Court sided with Fremont, granting them summary judgment.  Williams appealed.

The Appellate Court upheld the ruling, holding:

  1. A shopping center had no liability to a person who was assaulted in its parking lot after leaving a bar because it exercised reasonable care under Civ. Code, § 1714, subd. (a), by taking informal reports from tenants and maintaining lighting and security cameras, and absent evidence indicating a reasonably foreseeable risk of violent criminal assaults, it had no duty to provide security guards or to take affirmative measures to discover criminal activity on the premises;
  2. Although the shopping center’s manager was generally aware of the possibility that fights might occur at or near the bar, such general knowledge was not in itself enough to create a duty because there was no evidence of sufficiently similar criminal conduct to establish the high degree of foreseeability required to impose the burdensome obligation of hiring security guards upon a premises owner.

Williams v. Fremont Corners, Inc., 2019 Cal. App. LEXIS 645

The ruling seems to be a departure from that of Delgado (supra) and, hopefully, the plaintiff in this matter will appeal to the Supreme Court of California.

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