News Room

Owner Liability for Violent Attacks in a Public Places

Written on behalf of Brian S. Kabateck
June 20, 2017

Terror has gripped Europe with a vengeance over the past few weeks. Even more recently, America has had to come to grips with violence, targeting our elected officials in the shootout at a baseball field in Alexandria VA. As the victims and authorities struggle to recover, one must also wrestle with the question of liability when there is violence in the public square.

While blame can be clearly laid solely on the shooter in the case of the attack on the GOP members of Congress, when violence happens in a venue like a bar or nightclub, such as the Pulse nightclub attack of last year, the owners of the venue bear reasonable responsibility in keeping their patrons safe.

Injured parties can sue for damages based on several instances including negligence, obligation to protect and insufficient or incompetent protection.

In California, injured plaintiffs can claim negligence against a defendant owner, if: (1) the Defendants had a legal duty to conform to a standard of conduct to protect the Plaintiff; (2) the Defendant breached its legal duty by failing to meet the standard of conduct; (3) the Defendant’s breach was the proximate and legal cause of the resulting injury; and (4) the Plaintiff was damaged.  Ladd v. County of San Mateo (1996) 12 Cal.4th 913, 917.

Owners have legal obligations to protect customers and patrons from third-party criminal acts, which include providing adequate security guards. Those who forego providing the adequate protection hoping to cut costs can be found guilty of breaching their duty of care. These legal obligations were affirmed in California Supreme Court cases Delgado v. Trax Bar & Grill, (2005) 36 Cal.4th 224 and Morris v. De La Torre (2005), 36 Cal.4th 260.

Even if security is provided, incompetence can prove grounds for liability. “California case law recognizes the theory that an employer can be liable to a third person for negligently hiring, supervising, or retaining an unfit employee.” Doe v. Capital Cities (1996) 50 Cal.App.4th 1038, 1054. To establish this claim, the Plaintiff must prove all of the following: (1) that the Defendant’s employee was unfit or incompetent to perform the work for which he/she was hired; (2) that the Defendant employer knew or should have known that the employee was unfit or incompetent and that this unfitness or incompetence created a particular risk to others; (3) that the employee’s unfitness or incompetence harmed the Plaintiff; and (4) that the Defendant employer’s negligence in hiring, supervising, or retaining the employee was a substantial factor in causing the Plaintiff’s harm. CACI No. 426.

To ensure that security is top of the line, an owner is also responsible for stringent background checks; top-class training (which includes proper licensing and off-premises instruction); and appropriate use of personnel to ensure there is enough coverage for highly populated nights, and making sure any special requirements of the venue are met.

Owners and managers of venues have a duty to keep their clientele safe, and to be extra vigilant in these terror-stricken times. While specific acts of violence cannot always be anticipated, failure to prepare for the possibility of it is a mistake that can be deadly for patrons, and costly for those who want their patronage.

Kabateck LLP has been at the forefront of the venue liability issue, filing a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of slain musician Emilio Nevarez. Nevarez was an innocent bystander who was shot and killed outside of an Oakland nightclub in 2015. The shooter made threats against the club, though Neverez was not involved. KBK obtained a six figure settlement for the victim’s family.

If you or a loved one has experienced a catastrophic injury or have lost a family member due to negligence or wrongdoing, you must learn more about your legal rights to receive benefits which you are entitled to if your injury is due to a negligent party. Give one of our experienced personal injury attorneys at Kabateck LLP a call today to learn more about recovering damages and to explore your options. Our accident lawyers in Los Angeles can help you achieve the maximum compensation for the harm you or a loved one has suffered.