Woodland Hills car accident lawyer Barry P. Goldberg closely monitors the California Court of Appeal and Supreme Court decisions on all aspects of personal injury, tort and insurance-related matters in order to provide cutting edge advice to his clients. One area that has gained significant attention is where landowners and business owners have customers or patrons that are injured crossing streets to visit their premises. The issue really boils down to whether the landowner created or increased the dangers to its customers by allowing them to be injured on adjoining property or public streets over which they had no direct control.
Vasilenko v. Grace Family Church
In Vasilenko v. Grace Family Church (S235412, filed November 13, 2017) the California Supreme Court addressed the issue head on given that many Courts of Appeal have expanded the duties of landowners and that the modern realities of protecting customers has socially become more and more “reasonable.” In Vasilenko, Plaintiff Vasilenko was struck by a car as he crossed a public street between the main premises of defendant Grace Family Church (the Church) and the Church’s overflow parking area. Vasilenko contended that the Church owed him a duty of care to assist him in safely crossing the public street and that the Church was negligent in failing to do so. The Church argued that it had no control over the public street and therefore did not owe Vasilenko a duty to prevent his injury under the aged principle that landowners have no duty to protect others from dangers on abutting streets unless the landowner created the dangers. (See Sexton v. Brooks (1952) 39 Cal.2d 153, 157–158.)
Control of the Location
The parties did not dispute that the Church did not control the public street and did not create the dangers on the street. But the Church, by locating its parking lot on the other side of the street and directing Vasilenko to park there, foreseeably increased the likelihood that Vasilenko would cross the street at that location and thereby encounter harm. Therefore, Vasilenko argued that the circumstances here are different from when a landowner merely owns property abutting a public street.
As explained further below, the Supreme Court concluded that a landowner does not have a duty to assist invitees in crossing a public street when the landowner does no more than site and maintain a parking lot that requires invitees to cross the street to access the landowner’s premises, so long as the street’s dangers are not obscured or magnified by some condition of the landowner’s premises or by some action taken by the landowner. Because Vasilenko did not allege that the Church did anything other than maintain a parking lot on the other side of that street, the Court found that the Church did not owe him a duty to prevent his injury.
Does it make a difference if the business owns the nearby parking lot?
The plaintiff made a compelling argument that this case differed from those cases where the landowner is merely the owner of an establishment open to the public to have an entrance on a public street. All pedestrians on a public street face some risk of injury, which the landowner has done nothing to increase. It is another matter when the landowner sites and maintains a parking lot on the other side of a public street, so that the landowner’s invitees must cross the street in order to reach its premises. In such cases, while the public street itself is no more dangerous, the landowner has increased its invitees’ exposure to the specific dangers of that particular street crossing and has thereby increased the likelihood that the invitee will encounter harm at that crossing.
The ”Rowland” Factors
The Supreme Court analyzed the duty using the traditional “Rowland” factors Three factors—foreseeability, certainty, and the connection between the plaintiff and the defendant—address the foreseeability of the relevan[t] injury, while the other four—moral blame, preventing future harm, burden, and availability of insurance—take into account public policy concerns that might support excluding certain kinds of plaintiffs or injuries from relief.” (Kesner v. Superior Court (2016) 1 Cal.5th 1132, 1145.)
While the Supreme Court acknowledged that injuries may be technically “foreseeable”, it is not the end of the inquiry. Even as businesses may be in a position to gain economically by providing safe parking locations, it is another thing to require that their “duty” extend to adjacent public property and streets. Further, there is a real danger that businesses will simply stop providing parking to its customers if they could be responsible for all injuries, including negligent drivers from adjacent streets.
No Duty to Protect from Obvious Dangers
In conclusion, Vasilenko did not allege that the Church had done anything more than site and maintain a parking lot that required its invitees to cross a public street. Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded that the Church owed Vasilenko no duty to protect him from the obvious dangers of crossing the adjacent street. The Supreme Court left open the possibility that a cause of action could be maintained if the landowner voluntarily assumed a duty to assist patrons in crossing the street and then executed that duty negligently.
If you were involved in an accident while visiting a business and you believe that the business may have negligently undertaken a duty to assist you in arriving at the business, you should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer that is familiar with the latest case law in this area.