Premises Liability Law in California
Article by Attorney Michael D. Rehm
Today we look at the case of Annocki v. Peterson Enterprises, LLC (2014) 232 CA4th 32, a recent case from the California Court of Appeal. This case deals with the subject of premises liability. Premises liability is simply the legal principle that those who own, possess, or control property “have a duty to exercise ordinary care in managing the property in order to avoid exposing others to an unreasonable risk of harm.” Annocki 232 Cal.App.4th at 37 Typical premises liability situations are those in which someone is injured on property and whoever was in charge of the property acted negligently in stopping the injury from occurring. Many business’s view premises liability as a great burden, but the reality, if you actually look at the case law, is that generally the court is just asking, at a minimum, for a warning of any known danger. This is a pretty simple concept, and really just common courtesy and decency. If people are on your property, give them a heads up if there is some known dangerous condition that can cause an injury to them. For those have any interest at in this area of law, Annocki is an excellent review of the law and an easy read for lawyers and non-lawyers alike.
In Annocki, the plaintiff was killed when his motorcycle struck a vehicle coming out of a restaurant on the Pacific Coast Highway. The vehicle was attempting to make a left-hand turn, which was not possible due to the center median, which obviously, the vehicle was unaware of when it initially exited the parking lot. According to the case, the restaurant was aware that the patrons of the restaurant would have decreased visibility when exiting the parking lot at night (the driveway was going up a hill) and this decreased visibility could lead to a left hand turn onto the Pacific Coast Highway with potentially deadly results. The “driveway was so configured that it could confuse motorists into believing they could make a left turn out of the restaurant when in fact they could not.” Id. At 36. The restaurant argued several issues, but most prevalent was the argument that “a landowner has no duty to prevent injury on adjacent property.” Id. At 37.
The whole case was dependent on whether or not the Restaurant had a duty. The court discussed the current law in place for establishing a duty in California. It discussed the landmark California Supreme Court case of Rowland v. Christian (1968) 69 Cal.2d 108. In Rowland, the court laid out the factors to consider in determining whether a duty of care exists. The factors to determine whether a duty exists in Rowland, and the current law in California, are:
- The foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff (injured);
- The degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered injury;
- The closeness of the connection between the defendants conduct and the injury suffered;
- The morale blame attached to the defendants conduct;
- The policy of preventing future harm;
- The extent of the burden to the defendant (here, the restaurant);
- The consequences to the community in imposing a duty to exercise care with resulting liability for breach; and
- the availability, cost, and prevalence of insurance for the risk involved.
The court then went on to discuss how generally, there is no duty of the landowner to guard against injury on adjacent property, and cited several cases that came to that conclusion. The court then discussed the case of Barnes v. Black, 71 Cal.App.4th 1473, which set forth the following rule:
“ [a] landowner’s duty of care to avoid exposing others to a risk of injury is not limited to injuries that occur on premises owned or controlled by the landowner. Rather, the duty of care encompasses a duty to avoid exposing persons to risks of injury that occur offsite if the landowner’ s property is maintained in such a manner as to expose persons to an unreasonable risk of injury offsite. [Citations.] ” ( Id. at p. 1478.)” Annocki v. Peterson Enterprises, LLC (2014) 232 CA4th 38
In other words, if your piece of property is set up in such a way that even people who do not physically step foot on your property can get injured, or individuals on your property are exposed to a danger off your property due to the nature of your property, you have a duty to ensure that doesn’t happen. In the Barnes case, a child was killed when riding his tricycle to the play area in the apartment complex he lived in, the tricycle veered off the sidewalk, and down a steep driveway into a busy four lane street. “Several residents complained to the apartment manager, who informed the owner, of the danger presented when children rode bicycles and other wheeled vehicles along the sidewalk to the play area, passing by the steep driveway. Some children were seen careening down the driveway on wheeled vehicles, either out of control or intentionally, who would stop before entering the street by diving onto the grass.” Barnes at. 1476 The court in Barnes applied the Rowland factors above and found that in this factual situation, the apartment complex did owe a duty of care. The court specifically noted that there was no barrier between the sidewalk and the driveway, including a fence. Once again, this is a relatively simple solution, that would have alleviated a grave risk of harm to the same tenants paying to live at the apartment complex.
The Court in Annocki found that the Barnes case was analogous to their case. The Court in Annocki then applied the Rowland factors and found a clear duty on the part of the restaurant. They specifically noted that the very cheap solution of placing signs on their property warning individuals leaving their property which direction to turn, as well as the ability to use driveway paint to show which direction to turn. The Court was not stating that the restaurant had to completely renovate their driveway or their property in general. They simply could have used signs and driveway paint. Considering the large likelihood of severe injury and death that turning left out of the driveway would bring, simply requiring a business to place a sign and use driveway paint is a pretty common sense solution to the problem. As stated earlier, it is a good example of a situation where one would think common courtesy and decency would dictate a warning in general, without having to get the law involved. So, if you have been injured on the property of another, read the Rowland case and see how the factors line up with your facts.