I was hurt by someone on private property, can I sue the 3rd party landowner?
Generally speaking, California law allows you to make a claim against the owners and/or possessors (e.g., lessees) of property who have “failed to take reasonable steps to secure its property against criminal acts by third parties.” For example, a tenant who is mugged in the common area of an apartment building could have an actionable claim against the building owners if it could be proven that the property owners failed to “secure the common areas with adequate lighting, locks and other appropriate security measures.”
In order for such a claim to stick, however, the action of the criminal must be foreseeable and likely to occur “in the absence of reasonable precautionary measures.” If someone intentionally drove their car through a store window and you, standing on the other side, were injured, you probably would not have a viable case against the store owner in a premises liability case as this was not something that was foreseeable.
Finally, it should be noted that “the obligation to provide security measures adequate to deter criminal conduct [. . .] is not well defined.” So, if you have been assaulted, robbed, or otherwise injured by someone else on private property you may, or may not, have a premises liability claim against the owners and operators. The appellate courts have said that a property owner has a “duty to provide minimal measures to protect [a] patron” but not “burdensome measures.” In other words, adequate lighting and locks for an apartment building could be considered “minimal” whereas twenty-four hour armed security guards could be considered “burdensome.”
As a recent example, my office handled a case in which a security guard was employed to watch a skateboard park. A gang of teenagers who were the sons of homeowners in the area assaulted the guard causing him severe physical injury. We pursued a civil suit against the individuals and included the owners of the skate park who knew of previous criminal activity by skateboarders on the premises.
Thanks to California’s rules regarding the liability of property owners for third party criminal acts, I was able to obtain a favorable settlement for my client.
36 Cal.4th 224, 113 P.3d 1159, 30 Cal.Rptr.3d 145, 05 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 5841, 2005 Daily Journal D.A.R. 8038
50A Cal. Jur. 3d Premises Liability § 51
6 Witkin, Summary 10th (2005) Torts, § 1152, p. 504