South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Limited Duty to Protect Patrons from Criminal Acts Exists
Description California high court held that when a criminal act by a third party is a foreseeable possibility, a proprietor has an obligation to provide some assistance to its patrons to help prevent such an event.
Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words Premises Liability; Negligence; Duty of Care; Patrons
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Trax Bar employed two persons as bouncers. They checked IDs, watched that there were not too many people in the bar and that people did not gather in the parking lot to drink. They were told that in case of trouble they should call 911, but since it could take 20 minutes for police to arrive, the bouncers often intervened when there was trouble. Delgado arrived at the bar at 10 pm and left about midnight. Another patron, Joseph, and his companions, engaged in nasty staring with Delgado. Sensing that there could be trouble, a bouncer told Delgado he should leave. Joseph and his friends followed Delgado and jumped him in the parking lot. The bouncers call 911; the police arrested Joseph who was convicted of felony assault. Delgado suffered serious injuries. He sued Trax for premises liability for failing to anticipate the criminal conduct of a third person. The jury awarded Delgado $82,000. The appeals court reversed holding that Trax had no duty to prevent or intervene in the dispute. Delgado appealed.
Decision

Reversed and remanded. There is no general duty to act to protect others from the conduct of third parties, but a defendant may owe an affirmative duty to protect another from the conduct of third parties if he or she has a special relationship with the other person. When a proprietor is obligated to provide guards to protect the safety of patrons, the proprietor may be held vicariously liable for negligence of its guard or for negligence in selecting, training, supervising, or retaining the guard. Trax stood in a special relationship with its patron and invitee, and so owed a duty to undertake reasonable steps to secure common areas against foreseeable criminal acts of third parties that were likely to occur in the absence of such precautionary measures. The attack in this case was sufficiently foreseeable as to impose a duty on Trax to provide some protection for its patron.

Citation Delgado v. Trax Bar & Grill, 30 Cal.Rptr.3d 145 (Sup. Ct., Calif., 2005)

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