A California couple is seeking compensation from a popular motel chain after their daughter was fatally wounded while staying at the company’s North Hill Los Angeles location. According to the Northern California Record, a convicted felon on probation entered the premises with a gun, fired the weapon, and shot the girl in the face.
The parents maintain that the company, Motel 6, “failed to provide a reasonably safe environment for its business invitees” which ultimately led to their daughter’s untimely and tragic death. They filed premises liability lawsuit, claiming the motel was responsible for their daughter’s wrongful death.
What is Premises Liability?
In California, an injured person – or their family, if deceased – may hold the owner of property liable for damages if the owner had a duty to protect from reasonable harm. Premises liability law in California is based on the law of negligence.
Negligence will be proven if the plaintiff proves:
- The defendant had a duty to prevent foreseeable injury;
- The defendant breached this duty; and
- The plaintiff suffered an injury as a result of the breach.
Generally, a person who owns, possesses, or controls property will have a duty to prevent injury or harm on those invited onto the premises.
As a motel chain, Motel 6 has a heightened duty to prevent injury and to provide a safe space in which its customers can remain.
The duty of care a defendant owes depends on the facts and circumstances of the situation. Generally, a duty of care is calculated by weighing the:
- Foreseeability of harm or injury;
- Causation of the harm or injury;
- Connection between the injury and defendant’s conduct;
- Policies the defendant had in place to prevent harm or injury; and
- The cost, availability, and potential risk involved in fulfilling the duty.
The duty to prevent harm is not limited to physical property conditions, but also extends to acts of third parties.
In this case, Motel 6 may have had a duty to protect the girl who was killed by the actions of the convicted felon. The motel is required to “take affirmative action to control wrongful acts of third persons” where danger can reasonably be anticipated.
This duty, however, only exists when the violent or dangerous third-party conduct could be reasonably anticipated. This is a question of law that is decided by the court. In determining whether a duty existed the court will balance the likelihood or foreseeability of harm with the burden the duty would impose on the property owner.
If Motel 6 has had prior incidents where non-registered guests enter the premises and wreak havoc, they may have this extended duty to future customers. If the Motel 6 location is in a dangerous part of town, they may similarly have the extended duty to protect from potential harm by third parties.
If the motel had no prior incidents and maintained an adequate security system, they may not have a duty to protect guests from convicted felons who happen to enter the property.
Property Owners Must Take Adequate Security Precautions
The parents argue that Motel 6 did not have adequate security, negligently hired their employees, and failed to properly train the staff they did employ. The court, in reviewing the case, will consider these details when establishing if the motel had a heightened duty to protect from foreseeable third party conduct.
The motel may be liable if the girl’s injury could have been prevented if they had employed adequate and reasonable security measures. A court will review the present security measures with the cost, reasonableness, and necessity. Questions that may be asked include if there were reasonable surveillance methods in place, if security cameras were installed and used properly, if the staff was properly trained, and if the premises were adequately staffed.