By: William M. Berman, Attorney at Law
CALIFORNIA PREMISES LIABILITY LAW – Despite being the victim of an intentional crime, victims may be able to recover in a personal injury lawsuit against the property owner where the crime took place. In California, a landlord’s liability to tenants and their guests is based on the general rules of negligence provided in statute and the interpreting case law decisions of our courts. The general rule in California is that every person, including a landlord, is responsible for injuries caused by his or her failure to use ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person. Therefore, ordinary negligence principles apply to personal injury actions against landlords by tenants and their guests. Modernly, a person’s status as a tenant, business invitee, or social guest, for example, does not affect the landlord’s legal duty of reasonable care.
Our California Courts have made clear that there is a legal duty to secure premises against foreseeable criminal acts that are likely to occur in the absence of precautionary measures. It does not even matter whether the landlord actually knew of the particular criminal’s presence or criminal intent. In determining foreseeability courts have looked at whether there were prior similar incidents. However, the absence of previous criminal conduct does not exonerate the owner from using ordinary care to prevent possible injury. Prior incidents is not the sine qua non of a finding of foreseeability, and it really depends on the totality of the circumstances. The exact degree of foreseeability also varies depending on the burden involved in preventing future harm (such as whether it is expensive and complicated or simple and easy).
This is significant because when tenants or their guests suffer an assault, battery, rape, vandalism, or other crimes it may be possible to recover financially from the landlord. Often times crime victims may think that it is not worth suing the criminal either because the criminal’s identity is not known or the criminal probably does not have money to pay any judgment in a personal injury case. Holding the landlord liable in these situations thus allows for monetary recovery when it otherwise might not seem possible.
One example of where such crimes are likely to take place is parking garages of apartment complexes. The particular dangerousness of parking garages has been recognized by California courts. According to one California judge, large unattended parking structures present a particular attraction for criminal activity which “necessitates some kind of human or mechanical means of protecting patrons.”
An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to analyze the particular facts of any given case and evaluate whether bringing a personal injury suit against the landlord may be warranted. William Berman is an attorney at the firm Berman & Riedel, LLP, which has a long track record of obtaining extraordinary results in civil suits on behalf of injured victims.