In the wrongful death case of Annocki v. Peterson Enterprises, LLC, (2014) 232 Cal.App.4th 32, a patron of Geoffrey’s restaurant in Malibu, California, encountered the center divider on Pacific Coast Highway when he attempted to make a left turn out of the restaurant’s duty free parking lot. While in the process of reversing to the parking lot in an effort to get out of the middle of the highway, a motorcyclist collided with the patron’s car and was killed.
In their third amended complaint, Plaintiffs alleged that the patron was confused when leaving the parking lot. The patron tried to make a left turn instead of a right turn. Plaintiffs also alleged that the restaurant failed to adequately staff the parking lot; the parking lot had only one attendant on duty and no one was present to direct or assist the patron in exiting the parking lot and that the restaurant chose profits over public safety in failing to pay the additional $8 per hour to have another attendant on duty. The allegations insist that the restaurant knew, or should have known in the exercise of reasonable care. Geoffrey’s parking lot was designed in such a condition as to create a danger of decreased visibility of PCH.
Allegedly, the restaurant knew of its patrons’ difficulties in safely navigating the restaurant’s parking lot. Although they were aware, they failed to provide signs directing patrons to exit safely exit. The trial court found the restaurant owed no duty and dismissed Plaintiffs’ complaint.
The California Court of Appeal conceded that “in most instances, where there is no control over the premises, there is no duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent injury”. Additionally, “a landowner has no right to control and manage premises owned by another.” Id. at 37. However, despite the general rule, the Court of Appeal expressed exceptions to the general principle. Through case analogy, the court touched on the influence of “foreseeability” on the element of duty and emphasized that although an owner may not own property, he or she may have a duty to avoid exposing persons to risks of injury when injury to third persons is foreseeable and that duty of care was breached. Id. at 38.
Here, the court concluded that a sufficient showing of additional facts may be alleged to establish that the restaurant had a duty to warn the patron leaving its premises. Id. at 38. This ruling was made on the following observations; 1) it was foreseeable that patrons leaving the parking lot at night might not be aware of the center divider and make an unsafe left turn; 2) the unsafe turn would likely cause harm to the patron or third party and; 3) there was a close connection between the restaurant’s failure-to-warn and the injury to decedent. Id. at 38, 39.
In conclusion, it is important to keep this ruling in perspective. By no means did the court conclude that the restaurant breached its duty of care to decedent. Instead, the demurrer challenged the sufficiency of the pleading. This means only that Plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to establish the existence of a duty. Nonetheless, business owners should be aware of the potential for liability relating to dangerous conditions off-site that cause foreseeable risk.
Michael J. Libutti is a Broker and Attorney at Class Realty Group’s San Diego office. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 858-220-4295.