Woodland Hills personal injury attorney Barry P. Goldberg must look for viable liability theories against all possible defendants, particularly in catastrophic injury cases. One theory of liability that can create liability is when a dangerous condition of property exists and the landowner fails to warn of the known dangers. The lure of this theory is that it is relatively inexpensive to install a sign or erect a barrier when balanced against to terrible damage that can be done. On the other hand, many dangerous conditions are open and obvious—-often relieving the landowner of liability.
Defendants who own, possess, or control property generally have a duty to exercise ordinary care in managing the property in order to avoid exposing others to an unreasonable risk of harm. (Alcaraz v. Vece (1997) 14 Cal.4th 1149, 1156.)
Whether the defendants had a duty to install signs and barriers is a question of law for the court to decide. (Alcaraz v. Vece (1997) 14 Cal.4th 1149, 1162, fn. 4.) In determining whether a duty exists, the primary considerations are “the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to the defendant’s conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the extent of the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing a duty to exercise care with resulting liability for breach, and the availability, cost, and prevalence of insurance for the risk involved.” (Rowland v. Christian (1968) 69 Cal.2d 108, 113.)
“Although a possessor of land must exercise reasonable care to make the premises safe or to warn regarding dangerous conditions or activities the possessor knows of or could readily discover, ‘there is no obligation to protect the invitee against dangers which are known to him, or which are so apparent that he may reasonably be expected to discover them and be fully able to look out for himself.’ [Citations.]” (Lucas v. George T. R. Murai Farms, Inc. (1993) 15 Cal.App.4th 1578, 1590.)
“In most instances, where there is no control over the premises, there is no duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent injury. (Hamilton v. Gage Bowl, Inc. (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 1706, 1711.) . . . Thus, usually a landowner has no duty to prevent injury on adjacent property. (See Owens v. Kings Supermarket (1988) 198 Cal.App.3d 379, 386 [no duty to customer struck by motorist on adjacent public street]; Hamilton v. Gage Bowl, Inc., supra, 6 Cal.App.4th at p. 1714 [owner of parking lot not liable to customer injured by sign which fell from adjacent building].) Similarly, an adjacent landowner has no duty to warn of dangers outside of his or her property if the owner did not create the danger. (Seaber v. Hotel Del Coronado (1991) 1 Cal.App.4th 481, 487-488 [hotel not liable for failure to warn patron who was killed crossing adjacent street to use parking lot frequented by guests].)” (Annocki, supra, 232 Cal.App.4th at p. 37.)
“But there are exceptions to the general principle. In Barnes v. Black [(1999)] 71 Cal.App.4th 1473, a child who was killed by an automobile when the tricycle he was riding veered off the sidewalk, rolled down the steep driveway of the apartment complex where he lived into the street and into the path of an oncoming car. (Id. at p. 1476.) The court found the configuration of the driveway, which was adjacent to a children’s play area, made it foreseeable for a child to be ejected from the premises into the street. (Id. at pp. 1476, 1479.) Barnes observed that ‘[a] landowner’s duty of care to avoid exposing others to a risk of injury is not limited to injuries that occur on premises owned or controlled by the landowner. Rather, the duty of care encompasses a duty to avoid exposing persons to risks of injury that occur off site if the landowner’s property is maintained in such a manner as to expose persons to an unreasonable risk of injury offsite. [Citations.]’ (Id. at pp. 1478-1479.)” (Annocki, supra, 232 Cal.App.4th at p. 38.)
“In McGarvey v. Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. (1971) 18 Cal.App.3d 555, a motorist was injured when an employee of the defendant made a U-turn to avoid a difficult parking situation created by the defendant’s employees. Although it rejected the plaintiff’s theory that the employer was negligent because it had created a dangerous condition when it failed to provide adequate parking for its employees, the court stated: ‘We need not, and do not, fix an inflexible rule by this decision. Circumstances can be conceived where an occupier of land could create automobile snarl-ups on his premises or unleash forces onto public streets the nature of which would require a court to say that injury to third persons was foreseeable and that a duty of care existed and was breached.’ (Id at. p. 562.)” (Annocki, supra, 232 Cal.App.4th at p. 38.)
“‘[A]lthough the obviousness of a danger may obviate the duty to warn of its existence, if it is foreseeable that the danger may cause injury despite the fact that it is obvious (e.g., when necessity requires persons to encounter it), there may be a duty to remedy the danger, and the breach of that duty may in turn form the basis for liability . . . .’ [Citations.]” (Martinez v. Chippewa Enterprises, Inc., supra, 121 Cal.App.4th at p. 1184.) “The existence of a dangerous condition is ordinarily a question of fact; however, it can be decided as a matter of law if reasonable minds can come to only one conclusion concerning the issue.” (City of San Diego v. Superior Court (2006) 137 Cal.App.4th 21, 28.)
We have found that liability can attach when there is a physical condition on the land that is directly connected with the accident. Moreover, we have found that liability usually does not attach when the dangerous condition is so open and obvious that a reasonable and foreseeable person would necessarily take steps to avoid the dangerous condition. A good example of this is when there is a nearby busy street. A pedestrian would have to be aware that a busy street poses an obvious danger and that the pedestrian should not walk into that busy street and risk being hit by a passing car. The courts have consistently held a landowner has no duty to warn or prevent a pedestrian from walking into an obvious danger.