Court Case Finds Business Owners Are Not Liable

Dec. 20, 1999
Business owners are not liable for the financial and emotional harm suffered by people who are attacked on their property.

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."

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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