In a recent case before the California Court of Appeal, Second District, the appellate court addressed whether a hotel had adequate foreseeability of harm to plaintiffs injured during a protest. The court also examined whether an exception applied to the general rule that an employer is not liable for the acts of an independent contractor. Analysis centered on the elements of both premises liability and negligence claims, specifically, whether defendants owed a duty to plaintiffs under the circumstances of the case.
Plaintiffs Firouzeh Ghaffarpour and Nabiollah Najafi Moallem appealed the trial court’s judgment granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant Commerce Plaza Hotel. Plaintiffs contended that the Hotel owed them a duty, and was vicariously liable for the actions of its independent contractor security guards. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s finding that Plaintiffs did not meet their burden of showing an exception to the principle of nonliability for independent contractors. The court also found Plaintiffs failed to show that the Hotel was directly liable for failing to protect them from criminal assault and battery. According to the appellate court, the Hotel did, however, fail to render aid because it owed a duty to summon aid to Plaintiffs.
The facts show that the Hotel rented one of its meeting rooms to be used for a presidential election. The election was for the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the event organizers requested the Hotel contract for security services during the event. Plaintiffs arrived at the Hotel, protested the election, and were allegedly assaulted by the security guards, who used elbows and pepper spray to forcibly detain them.
Plaintiffs sued the Hotel and the security company, under direct and vicarious liability theories. They contended that the Hotel was liable for their injuries due to its negligent failure to protect against assault and battery, and for its negligent failure to render aid. They also brought claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and other causes of action. The Hotel moved for summary judgment and the trial court granted it, finding the Hotel was not vicariously liable for the guards’ conduct. Plaintiffs appealed.
On appeal, the court stated Defendants did not owe a duty to protect against the guards’ criminal conduct because the conduct was not foreseeable. Under a premises liability theory, the scope of the landowner’s duty extends only to foreseeable harm. The Hotel did not have notice that aggressive protesters would arrive. There was no duty on the part of the Hotel to inquire as to the need for security at a presidential election. Here, the security guards’ wrongful acts could not have been reasonably anticipated by the Hotel. Therefore, the Hotel did not owe a duty to the Plaintiffs to secure the premises from the alleged criminal conduct.
The court stated there remained a triable issue of fact regarding whether the Hotel had a duty to summon aid to the protestors. Generally, a person who did not create a danger does not owe a duty to assist or protect another, unless there is a relationship between them giving rise to a duty. The appellate court stated that as a business entity, the Hotel did have a duty to call for assistance when it learned that individuals were injured on its property. Because the protesters were drawn to the Hotel as a result of an election hosted by the Hotel, they did have a duty to summon aid. The assistance required was to call for medical aid, and was a minor burden.
Because the Hotel did not produce evidence showing they called for medical aid after learning of Plaintiff’s injuries, they did not meet their burden in moving for summary judgment on this cause of action. The court reversed the summary adjudication on this cause of action.
The appellate court held that Plaintiffs did not show the Hotel was vicariously liable for the torts of the Independent Contractors. Because the security guards were independent contractors, there is a general rule of nonliability. Here, Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden in opposing Defendants’ summary judgment motion of producing evidence showing that one of the exceptions applied, including non-delegable duty doctrine, peculiar risk doctrine, and intentional tort exception. The court affirmed the summary adjudication of the causes of action for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress as well as civil battery, false imprisonment, and battery.
In conclusion, the appellate court affirmed summary adjudication as to all the causes of action except for the allegation that the Hotel breached its duty to summon medical aid.
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