Property Owner May Owe Duty of Care For Failure to Warn of Risks On Adjacent Highway

Author: Mina Miserlis

The Second District Court of Appeal recently reversed a demurrer sustained in favor of a restaurant owner for injuries occurring on a public highway beyond the restaurant premises. In Annocki v. Peterson Enterprises, LLC (2014) 180 Cal.Rptr.3d 474, a motorcyclist died after colliding with a vehicle exiting the restaurant parking lot. The motorcyclist’s family sued the restaurant owner, among other defendants. The trial court sustained the restaurant owner’s demurrer without leave to amend. On appeal, the court reversed.

Background Facts

Defendant operates “Geoffrey’s” restaurant in Malibu, California. On the date of the incident, the decedent was driving a motorcycle on Pacific Coast Highway when he collided with a motorist exiting the adjacent Geoffrey’s parking lot. Plaintiffs alleged the motorist had attempted to make an illegal left hand turn when exiting the parking lot. The highway was lined with temporary traffic dividers along the median, making a left turn from the lot impossible.

Plaintiffs’ Allegations/Demurrer

Plaintiffs complaint alleged (i) Defendant knew or should have known that its parking lot and driveway were designed in such a way as to create a danger of decreased visibility of the highway, (ii) Defendant knew its patrons had difficulty exiting the lot, and (iii) Defendant failed to provide adequate signage directing patrons that only right turns could be made onto the highway.

Defendant demurred to the complaint on the grounds Plaintiffs failed to allege any facts showing they had a duty to warn of conditions on the highway or that the accident was foreseeable. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend, finding the highway was inherently dangerous and the business had no duty to warn.

A Landowner Generally Owes No Duty to Prevent Injury on Adjacent Property

At the outset, the Annocki court noted as a general rule “where there is no control over the premises, there is no duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent injury.” (Annocki v. Peterson Enterprises, LLC, supra, 180 Cal.Rptr.3d 474, 477.) However, the court cited Barnes v. Black (1999) 71 Cal.App.4th 1473 for the principle 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 offsite if the landowner’s property is maintained in such a manner as to expose persons to an unreasonable risk of injury offsite.” (Id. at p. 478, quoting Barnes v. Black, supra, 71 Cal.App.4th at p. 1478.)

Holding

The Annocki court agreed with Defendant that it owed no duty to place signs on the public roadway to indicate only right turns were permitted. However, the court found the property was configured in such a way to permit patrons to exit in an unsafe manner, as the traffic dividers made a left turn impossible but there was no signage in the lot to indicate only right turns were permitted. The court noted it was foreseeable that patrons exiting the premises at night could be unaware of the divider and attempt to make an unsafe left turn. The court concluded additional facts could be alleged to establish Defendants had a duty to warn patrons exiting the premises that “only a right turn could safely be made from the restaurant’s exits.” (Id. at p. 480.)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mina Miserlis is senior counsel at Tyson & Mendes LLP. She specializes in personal injury and high net worth insurance issues. Contact Mina at 858.263.4108 or mmiserlis@tysonmendes.com.

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