A landowner’s duty extends to all areas that (1) visitors are expressly or impliedly invited to use, and (2) the owner exercises actual or apparent control over. This includes:
- areas within a building used in common by patrons of several businesses;
- areas outside the building used by the general public in common with business visitors; and
- areas of ingress and egress that visitors are implicitly induced to use, such as a walkway or exterior ramp.
By contrast, landowners usually aren’t liable for injuries that occur on property that’s not in their possession or control unless they created the condition or had a right to control activities at the site. For example, liability of the property owner or occupant has been denied when the injury occurred on adjacent private property, sidewalk, or beach.
So how does this work when a landowner puts a parking lot across the street from its business and maintains that lot? Is that owner on the hook if someone is injured while crossing the street from the parking lot to the business?
The California Supreme Court said no. In Vasilenko v Grace Family Church (2017) 3 C5th 1077, 1082, the church had a parking lot across the street from it. The supreme court held that this fact didn’t give the church a duty to assist invitees in crossing the public street from the parking lot to the church.
But don’t take this holding to mean that landowners or businesses aren’t liable for injuries just because they didn’t occur on their premises. Liability can still arise if the landowner or business either:
- imposed or created some palpable external effect on the area where the plaintiff was injured, or
- received a special commercial benefit from that area and also had direct or de facto control of it.
For guidance on handling your next premises liability case, turn to CEB’s California Tort Guide, chap 10.
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