MUST PROPERTY OWNERS WARN RESIDENTS OF GANG ACTIVITY?
The California Supreme Court case agreed to decide whether a property owner can be held liable for injuries caused on their owned premises by tenants who are known gang members.
In the case under review, mobile-home Park resident Ernest Castaneda was shot while on the steps of his residence during a shoot out between rival gang members.
As a result of his injuries, Castaneda sued the Park owners for essentially their failure to warn residents of the dangerous condition at the Park, failure to remove the dangerous condition from the Park, and failure to provide sufficient security and safety measures.
Castaneda presented evidence that the Park owners knew that gang members and drug dealers resided in the Park, that many of the streetlights in the Park were inoperable, and that there had been incidents of previous shootings in the Park. In fact, a co-owner of the Park testified at trial that she personally witnessed drug deals in the Park and that a Drug Enforcement Agency had one Park family under active surveillance. She also testified that when she confronted the co-owner of the Park about renting to known gang members, the co-owner said "Go ahead and rent to them. Their money is as good as yours."
Although the defendant Park owners successfully moved for a nonsuit based on the absence of duty and lack of evidence of causation, the Court of Appeal reversed, holding that plaintiff's injury was foreseeable because "violence is inherent to the gang lifestyle" and therefore any time there are gangs or a gang member on the premises, harm is foreseeable. The Court of Appeal did not deal with the causation issue, saying only that there was sufficient evidence to warrant a jury finding on whether security measures could have prevented plaintiff's injuries.
The trial Judge then found that the Park owners were liable to plaintiff for failing to take action to prevent the foreseeable injury, while noting that the Park owners were required to take preventative measures and alert its residents of the danger given the previous incidents of gang activity and drug sales in the Park.
The Judge opined that the Park owners might have prevented the shoot-out by refusing to rent to known gang members and drug dealers, maintaining the park street lights, and hiring a security patrol. He opined that although a landlord is not the guarantor of tenant safety, when there is a reasonably foreseeable risk to tenants, the property owner must take reasonable precautions to prevent injury such as what occurred in this case. Therefore, the owners of the Park incurred premises liability for Castaneda's injuries because they negligently failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent damages.
Castaneda v. Olsher, Case No. S138104