In a significant ruling last week, the California Supreme Court held that business owners are not automatically liable for the financial and emotional harm suffered by people who unforseeably are attacked by criminals on their property.
The majority court opinion, was a welcomed relief to business property owners. Without the ruling, they would have been forced under a lower court of appeal ruling to bear significant monetary costs to provide security measures, such as private police patrols and surveillance cameras regardless of the forseeability of criminal activities on their premises.
In ruling in favor of the garage owners, the state supreme court held that occurrence of a violent third-party sexual assault in the garage was not sufficiently forseeable to hold them financially responsible.
In this case, the plaintiff paid a monthly fee to park in an assigned space in the underground parking garage owned and operated by the defendants.
On April 8, 1993, she was forced at gunpoint into her car by a masked assailant who sexually assaulted her.
In her subsequent lawsuit, she alleged that the defendants' failure to provide adequate security for users of the parking garage resulted in the attack upon the plaintiff.
Specifically, the court held that the plaintiff failed to establish the high degree of foreseeability necessary to require extra measures to secure its premises against such crimes.
"This ruling preserves the basic principle that business property owners are not the insurers of public safety," said Stephen McCutcheon, an attorney with the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation, who filed a motion in favor of the commercial garage owner.
McCutheon added, "For the court to have held otherwise would have imposed an unfair burden on businesses that would have opened the floodgates of litigation against all businesses large and small."