Fatal Stabbing in Mobile Park Home Not Foreseeable, California Court Upholds Summary Judgment in Favor of Landlord in Lawsuit Alleging Negligence, Wrongful Death

In this recent opinion, the issue before the California Court of Appeal was whether a mobile home park owed a duty of care to prevent harm by a third party to residents of the park. The Court of Appeal addressed policy issues regarding extending a duty of care to the landlord in this case, and specifically, whether it was foreseeable that the individual in this case would inflict harm.

The facts indicated that two residents of the mobile park home suffered stabbing wounds by an individual who lived with his aunt but was not a resident of the park. One victim died, and their heirs, along with the surviving victim, filed a civil lawsuit against the mobile home park. The lower court held in favor of the mobile park home, finding that a knife attack had not been sufficiently foreseeable.

The plaintiffs alleged the mobile home park failed to remove the stabber, a dangerous occupant, from the park. As the nephew of a tenant, the stabber had been served a five-day notice to leave, amid complaints about his erratic behavior. Specifically, he was directed that he must vacate the premises due to failing to register as a park resident. He left but then returned to live with his aunt once again.

Once he returned to the mobile home park, the stabber befriended two individuals, including the plaintiff. Their friendship apparently had issues, including moments during which the plaintiff felt fearful due to the nephew’s behavior. The underlying incident took place when the stabber asked the plaintiff to walk next door, and he then jumped at her and stabbed her in the stomach with a knife. When she screamed, her boyfriend came outside and was fatally stabbed by the stabber.

The surviving plaintiff and the heirs of the deceased individual brought the complaint against the mobile park home, each alleging separate causes of action for wrongful death, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. The mobile park home moved for summary judgment, and the trial court found that the plaintiffs had not established that the knife attacks were foreseeable. The motion was granted in favor of the mobile park home.

On appeal, the court stated that to succeed in a negligence claim, the plaintiffs must show that the defendant owed the plaintiffs a legal duty and breached the duty, and the breach caused resulting damages or injuries. Here, the court relied on factors set forth in the case of Rowland v. Christian (1968), 69 Cal.2d 108, 113, to address whether there was a duty of care owed to the plaintiff.

Here, the court focused on foreseeability, asking whether the injury to the plaintiff had been foreseeable. The court stated that if the court finds that an injury was not foreseeable, there was no duty owed to the plaintiff.  According to California law, landowners must maintain their land in a reasonably safe condition, and the duty of maintenance includes taking steps to protect against any foreseeable criminal acts committed by third parties. While there had been intimidating conduct by the stabber, there was no previous physical violence that could have helped the mobile home park predict the stabbing would occur.

The appellate court stated that, considering all of the circumstances, the stabbing of two park occupants who had socialized with the attacker and considered him their friend was not “highly foreseeable.” The mobile park home did not have a duty to remove the stabber in order to prevent an attack. The court also acknowledged that there may be policy reasons to hold that a landlord does not have a duty to prevent attacks by a tenant’s friend.

The court affirmed the judgment in favor of the mobile park home.

This case demonstrates the importance of proving all of the elements of a negligence claim in a personal injury lawsuit. At Sharifi Firm, we help individuals pursue compensation for injuries caused by the negligence or reckless acts of others. Throughout Southern California, we have represented people in their claims for compensation from individuals and organizations that fail to meet their duty of care. Contact our office to discuss the details of your case with a skilled negligent security attorney. We can be reached by phoning 866-422-7222 or completing our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Appellate Court Finds School District Not Liable for Injuries Suffered by Student in Off-Campus Student Altercation, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, April 27, 2017

Child Assumed Risks Inherent in Skiing and Relatives Not Negligent, According to California Court of Appeal, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, April 10, 2017

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