The Morrison Law Journal
In determining whether a property owner in California has a duty of reasonable care for the safety of those on its property, the California Courts have balanced what are known as the "Rowland" factors. See, Rowland v. Christian (1968) 69 Cal.2d 108, 113. The Rowland factors include the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered injury and the closeness of the connection between the defendant's conduct and the foreseeability of the injury suffered.
A challenge for property owners in personal injury cases is to demonstrate that unusual or unexpected activity is sufficiently far enough out of the ordinary such that the activity is not foreseeable for purposes the Rowland factors. In that regard, the California Court of Appeal, Second District opinion in Travis Sakai v. Massco Investments, LLC (2018) Daily Journal D.A.R. 2031 ("Sakai Case") will provide guidance where personal injuries have resulted from unusual or unexpected activity on an owner's property.
In the Sakai case, Travis Sakai and his wife sued Massco Investments, LLC ("Massco"), the owner of a Union 76 gas station in Los Angeles. Massco leased a portion of the parking lot for the gas station to owners of a taco truck from 4:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. Monday through Sunday. Although the Massco lease did not expressly require the taco truck owner to provide security parking lot attendants, Massco admitted that an outside security person hired by the taco truck's owner was expected to keep the taco truck customers' cars organized on the parking lot.
On August 25, 2013, at about 2:00 a.m., Sakai, his wife and a friend drove into the Union 76 parking lot owned by Massco to get food from the taco truck. The parking lot was described as crowded. Sakai could not find any open parking spaces and backed up to exit the parking lot. As he backed up, Sakai hit the front of another car, owned by Ana Avalos, but at that time driven by someone other than Avalos. Sakai attempted to engage with the driver of the Avalos vehicle and admitted the accident being his fault. The operator of the second vehicle, instead, became angry, got back into his car, and without any warning, suddenly backed up into the street, at a "high rate of speed," and drove away. In doing so, the driver of the Avalos vehicle struck Sakai and dragged him into the street, causing serious bodily injuries.
Sakai sued Massco for negligence and premises liability. Massco filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on the basis that the motorist's conduct in striking and dragging Sakai was not reasonably foreseeable to the parking lot owner. The Trial Court granted summary judgment, ruling that the accident was not reasonably foreseeable. On appeal, the California Court of Appeal, weighing the Rowland factors, ruled that the conduct of the driver of the Avalos vehicle was not foreseeable or derivative of Massco's conduct in designing, leasing, or operating the parking lot. The Court of Appeal noted that Sakai's wife, as well as Sakai, admitted that she had not expected the driver of the Avalos vehicle to suddenly reverse his vehicle and drag Sakai into the street. The Court of Appeal also noted that there was no evidence that, prior to the date of the accident, Massco was on notice that drivers routinely or regularly entered or exited the gas station parking at a high rate of speed.