California Court of Appeal Holds Plaintiff Failed to Show California Restaurant Owner Had a Duty to Take Preventative Measures to Protect Against Third-Party Harm to Plaintiff

The California Court of Appeal recently addressed whether the owner of a restaurant owed a duty to protect against harm caused by removing a snow grate. In this opinion, the court emphasized the balancing test of the foreseeability of harm against the burden imposed on a proprietor to protect against potential harm. In this case, the lower court had held the owner had no duty to take additional preventative measures, since third parties had not formerly removed the grate. The appellate court affirmed the judgment in favor of the restaurant, holding that the plaintiff had not shown the removal of the grate was reasonably foreseeable, and therefore, there was no triable issue regarding the owner’s duty to undertake preventative measures.

After falling through a snow grate that had been removed near the entrance and exit to a restaurant, the plaintiff in this case brought causes of action against the restaurant owner for negligence and premises liability. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged the owner breached its duty to avoid harm to patrons. The complaint also alleged that it was reasonably foreseeable that third parties would engage in pranks, vandalism, or malicious conduct, unless the premises were secured, since the premises had a history of such misconduct.

The facts indicated that individuals congregated near the public door on the deck, removed the snow grate, and exposed the opening in the deck. This opening is where the plaintiff fell when he stepped out of the door, about nine seconds after the grate was removed.  Security guards were on duty that evening, but they did not see the fall take place.

In their analysis, the appellate court stated that California law holds that restaurant owners owe a duty to patrons to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition.  Securing common areas against foreseeable third-party criminal acts is part of this duty.  The court stated that affirmative actions must be taken to control misconduct by third parties when the misconduct can be reasonably anticipated.

A balance must be achieved by looking at the foreseeability of harm and the burden of the proposed preventative measures. In this case, the plaintiff was a patron, or invitee, of the restaurant, and the owner owed him a duty to protect against foreseeable wrongful acts by third parties.  But proprietors need not provide security guards to protect patrons unless there is a heightened foreseeability of misconduct by third parties.

In this case, the plaintiff cited multiple acts that took place at the restaurant, including vandalism, burglary, and assault.  He contended that these acts were similar to the misconduct at issue in this case. The court rejected this claim and stated that the owner would not have been on notice to monitor the snow grate, preventing a patron from falling through the grate.

The plaintiff had not presented evidence that placing a lock on the snow grate would have been burdensome, nor had there been evidence of individuals tampering with snow grates on nearby premises.  Foreseeability is a “crucial factor” when looking at the duty owed by a proprietor, and here, the court stated the plaintiff had not shown that third-party misconduct was foreseeable.

The court concluded that the plaintiff could not show the owner owed him a duty to apply the preventative measures that the plaintiff proposed. The trial court properly granted the summary judgment motion, since the plaintiff could not prove a necessary element of his causes of action.

The court affirmed the judgment in favor of the restaurant.

The dedicated premises liability attorneys at Sharifi Firm help injured individuals throughout California as they pursue compensation following an accident.  Our office provides a free consultation and can be reached by calling 866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court of Appeal Finds Condition Outside Pacific Palisades Vons Market Not Dangerous, Plaintiff Not Entitled to Damages for Slip and Fall Accident, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 11, 2016

California Appellate Court Affirms Judgment in Favor of Town When Plaintiffs Failed to Create Triable Issue of Fact Regarding Dangerous Condition of Property, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 20, 2016

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