Responsibility for Violent Crimes in SoCal
The good old days of safe streets in Los Angeles are over. After violent crime hit a 50-year low in 2014. Most kinds of violent crime increased significantly once again in 2021. Rates of homicides, rapes, and aggravated assults jumped the most. Officials blamed liberal gun possession laws for much of this increase. Negligent property owners who refuse to provide adequate security contribute to the problem as well.
This post is not one of these “society is to blame” posts. Individuals, not public policies, are responsible for individual acts of violence, at least in most cases. These individuals face consequences in criminal court. These consequences do not include compensating the victims of their attacks, once again at least in most cases,
A Los Angeles personal injury attorney must file a legal claim to obtain compensation for the physical and emotional wounds that violent crimes create. Usually, politicians are immune from such lawsuits, under California’s sovereign immunity doctrine. Negligent property owners have no such immunity. However, these cases are quite complex.
Building a Case
Californai law requires property owners to ensure that their guests are reasonably safe. This responsibility includes a duty to provide reasonable security. A negligence case has four basic elements:
- Duty: A property owner’s duty of care in California depends on several factors, such as the location and type of property, the likelihood of serious harm, and the owner’s knowledge about an injury-causing defect.
- Breach: Owners breach their duty of care when they do not provide reasonable security. Common breaches of duty include burned-out lights, non-working gates, and inadequate security level (e.g. an unarmed guard when an armed guard is reasonably necessary).
- Cause: Owners are not directly responsible for assaults and other such injuries. However, they are financially responsible for them, if negligent security encourages people to commit crimes. Victim/plaintiffs must also prove legal causation. More on that below.
- Damages: Generally, the assault or other criminal act must cause a physical injury. It doesn’t matter how severe that injury is. In some cases, a Los Angeles personal injury attorney may be able to recover compensation in non-physical injury cases.
Many assaults and other violent crimes have no witnesses, especially if a burned-out light or non-working camera was involved. California’s broad res ipsa loquitur rule often applies in these situations. Jurors may presume, based on circumstantial evidence, that owner negligence contributed to an assault.
Responding to Defenses
Comparative fault and assumption of the risk might be the most common insurance company defenses in premises liability claims.
Shifting blame for sexual assaults and other heinous crimes is a common tactic among criminal defense lawyers. Insurance company lawyers often try the same thing. In a civil context, comparative fault is basically a self-protection breakdown.
For example, if Sara parks underneath a burned-out light instead of pulling forward to a well-lit area, the property owner may argue that Sara was reckless. However, if the well-lit spot was too far from Sara’s front door, she understandably wouldn’t want to park there, for safety reasons.
After they hear all the evidence, jurors must divide fault 50-50, 80-20, or on another percentage basis.
California is a pure comparative fault state. Even if Sara was 99 percent responsible for the assault, the owner must pay a proportionate share of Sara’s damages.
Assumption of the risk is usually another form of comparative fault. However, if the victim signed a waiver, assumption of the risk could be a complete defense. Apartment tenants commonly sign such waivers when they sign their leases.
These waivers are usually unenforceable. This defense only holds up in court if the victim voluntarily assumed a known risk. A take-it-or-leave-it waiver, which the victim must sign, is not a voluntary agreement.
Negligent security claims often have foreseeability (legal causation) issues. A third party’s criminal activity breaks the chain of causation, unless the incident was foreseeable (possible) in the eyes of the owner.
Evidence of foreseeability includes prior similar incidents in the area, the neighborhood crime rate (which is probably high), and the type of business. Generally, more violent crimes occur at sketchy apartment complexes or at businesses, like marijuana dispensaries, that have lots of cash. Attorneys must prove foreseeability, and all other elements of a negligence case, by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).Vehicle collisions usually cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced Los Angeles personal injury lawyer, contact the Law Offices of Eslamboly Hakim & Sharona Hakim, Attorneys. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.
Credit: Photo on freepik
Sharona Eslamboly Hakim, Esq. is a successful personal injury attorney and the principal of the Law Offices of Eslamboly Hakim firm in Beverly Hills, California.