California Court of Appeals Holds Landowner Has Duty to Warn Patrons of Potential Dangers When Exiting Restaurant Off Pacific Coast Highway

In a recent appeal, the California Court of Appeals determined that a restaurant operator has a duty to warn patrons leaving the premises when a right turn is required to be made when exiting the restaurant. The court addressed issues of premises liability and the duty owed by a landowner when patrons may be exposed to offsite injury.

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In this case, the plaintiffs were the parents of Joseph Annocki, who was killed in a vehicle accident by a patron leaving Geoffrey’s Restaurant in Malibu. Mr. Annocki had been driving a motorcycle on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu when Terry Turner exited the parking lot of the restaurant and collided with his motorcycle.

Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of their third amended complaint for damages, based on the death of Mr. Annocki. The third amended complaint alleged wrongful death and dangerous condition of public property claims. The trial court held that Defendant Peterson Enterprises, LLC did not owe a duty to Mr. Annocki.

Plaintiffs contended that at the time of the accident, Defendant failed to provide the appropriate number of staff in the parking lot, and Defendant knew or should have known that the parking lot and driveway created a danger of decreased visibility of the highway.

Defendant demurred and stated that Plaintiffs had not shown they had a duty to warn of alleged dangerous highway conditions. Plaintiffs stated that if the landowner’s property was maintained in a manner that exposed persons to an unreasonable risk of offsite injury, they had a duty of care, including a duty to warn of a risk of offsite injury.

In sustaining the demurrer, the trial court stated that the Pacific Coast Highway was inherently dangerous, and there was no duty to warn about this condition.

Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant’s duty of care extended beyond the property lines of the restaurant. They contended that they had shown that the restaurant was configured such that motorists become confused, believing they can turn left when exiting the restaurant, when in fact they cannot. Defendant countered that the accident was not foreseeable because Mr. Turner did not use the valet service, any signage would have been redundant due to the center divider, and the restaurant could not control highway traffic.

In their analysis, the court stated that, as in a negligence cause of action, a plaintiff in a premises liability action must prove that the defendant breached a duty of care owed to the plaintiff, and this breach caused injuries and damages. Landowners, and those who possess or control property, have a general duty to exercise ordinary care in managing their property to avoid exposing others to harm. Generally, the duty of care includes balancing considerations such as the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff would suffer an injury, the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered, and the moral blame attached to the defendant’s conduct.

The court stated that when there is no control over the premises, the general rule is that there is no duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent an injury. Generally, a landowner does not control and manage the premises of its neighbor. But the exception is that the duty of care includes a duty to avoid exposing people to a risk of offsite injury if the landowner’s property potentially exposes people to an unreasonable risk of such an injury.

Here, Defendant had a duty to warn patrons of the potential dangers when exiting the parking lot. This is because Defendant was on notice of the dangerous highway conditions and the potential risk to patrons leaving the restaurant, as well as drivers on the roadway. First, the center divider in the roadway made it foreseeable that patrons might make an unsafe turn, unaware of the existence of the divider. Second, an unsafe turn would harm either the leaving patron or people on the roadway. Third, the connection between the failure to warn and the injuries is close. The court stated that minimal, inexpensive steps can be taken to avert harm. For example, driveway paint and prominent reflective signage could have averted the accident in this case.

The appellate court reversed the judgment and granted Plaintiffs an opportunity to amend their complaint to include additional facts necessary to establish Defendant’s duty.

At Sharifi Firm, we help victims of car and motorcycle accidents hold negligent parties accountable. We provide a free consultation and can be reached by calling 866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court of Appeal Affirms Strict Adherence to Jurisdictional Restrictions in Appeal from Car Accident Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, September 29, 2015

California Court of Appeals Holds Plaintiffs Entitled to Costs of Proof Due to Defendants’ Failure to Admit Requests for Admissions, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, September 18, 2015

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