A recent negligence and premises liability case before the California Court of Appeals centered on whether an exception applied to the general duty of care. A possessor of land owes a duty to use reasonable care to maintain their property, even in the presence of a dangerous condition caused by a factor that the landowner does not possess or control. In this case, the defendant controlled the land where the dangerous condition, an outdoor dining area, existed. The defendant did not control the instrumentality creating the hazard, a soccer ball.
Campclar Corporation is the owner and operator of the Spitfire Grill, a restaurant located across the street from a soccer field at the Santa Monica Airport Park. While sitting at an outdoor table eating, Ms. Neira was struck in the head by a stray soccer ball that flew over the fence. Ms. Neira received emergency medical care and suffered hearing loss and other injuries.
Ms. Neira sued Campclar for negligence, premises liability, and strict liability. She alleged that Campclar knew or reasonably should have know that customers seated in the restaurant’s outdoor dining area would be exposed to an unreasonable risk of harm from stray soccer balls kicked from the soccer field. In support of her claim, Ms. Neira alleged that she was negligently seated in a risky area and that Campclar failed to warn her of the risk. As a result, she suffered an injury. In her premises liability cause of action, Ms. Neira alleged that Campclar negligently maintained the restaurant in a dangerous condition.
Campclar demurred to the complaint on the grounds that they did not owe Ms. Neira a duty of care because the dangerous condition, the soccer ball, was located on property that Campclar did not control. Ms. Neira dismissed her strict liability claim but opposed the demurrer on the grounds that she had alleged sufficient facts showing a duty of care in support of her premises liability and negligence causes of action. The trial court sustained the demurrer on the grounds that a defendant cannot be liable for a dangerous condition they do not own, possess, or control.
On appeal, the court focused on the general duty of care and the exceptions stated in the California Supreme Court case of Rowland v. Christian (1868), 79 Cal. 2d 108. Considerations that may justify an exception to the general duty of care include the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the moral blame attached to the defendant’s behavior, and the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury. Furthermore, the court stated that when applying these factors, the California Supreme Court has made clear that the task is not to look at a particular plaintiff’s injury and a particular defendant’s conduct, but to generally evaluate the category of negligent conduct.
Ms. Neira alleged that the seating area in the restaurant’s outdoor dining area, facing away from the soccer field, exposed customers to an unreasonable risk of injury from soccer balls. Campclar did not dispute that it controlled the outdoor dining area. The court analyzed a similar case in which the landowner did not control the instrumentality creating the hazard. Nevertheless, the court held there is a duty of reasonable care to protect persons from the dangerous condition.
The court examined whether other factors, such as the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, supported creating an exception to the duty of care in this case. The foreseeability question is whether the conduct is sufficiently likely to result in the kind of harm suffered. Here, it was generally foreseeable that a soccer ball might leave a nearby playing field and strike a person on nearby property. In terms of the certainty of Ms. Neira’s injuries, she alleged that she suffered pain in her head, neck, and arms, as well as hearing loss in her right ear.
The court found that there was a close connection between Ms. Neira’s alleged injuries and Campclar’s alleged negligence. Ms. Neira contended that Campclar negligently seated her in an area where a soccer ball might strike her, thereby failing to protect her from that risk. She alleged that Campclar negligently created a risk of the type of injury that she suffered.
Finally, in terms of public policy, the court stated that there is no reason to believe that finding a duty of reasonable care in these circumstances creates a heavy burden on landowners.
In conclusion, the court stated that the particular facts of Ms. Neira’s injury might vary, but the rule is that a landowner has a duty to exercise reasonable care to maintain its land in a reasonably safe condition. The court reversed the judgment with directions to the trial court to vacate the order sustaining Campclar’s demurrer.
At Sharifi Firm, our personal injury attorneys are skilled at litigating premises liability and negligence claims. We provide a free consultation and can be reached by calling 1-866-422-7222.
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