California Appeals Court Holds Church Not Liable for Accident Related to Adjacent Parking Lot

A plaintiff was hit by a car as he crossed a street between defendant Grace Family Church and the church’s parking lot. He sued the church for negligence, alleging that the church was negligent in breaching its duty of care to help him safely cross the street. The trial court granted the church’s motion for summary judgment. The Third District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision in this California premises liability case, and last month, the California Supreme Court reversed the appeals court’s decision and remanded the case.

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In his initial lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that the church owed him a duty of care to help him cross the street. The church responded that it had no control over the public street and thus did not owe a duty to prevent the plaintiff’s injury, contending that landowners have no duty to protect others from dangers on adjacent streets unless the owner created the danger.

Before the state supreme court, the parties stipulated that the church did not control the street and did not create the dangers on the street. But the church, the plaintiff argued, by directing the plaintiff to park there, foreseeably increased the likelihood that the plaintiff would cross the street and become injured. Thus, the circumstances differed from those in which a landowner simply owns property next to a public street.

California Civil Code section 1714(a) establishes the general duty that each person must exercise reasonable care for the safety of others. The California Supreme Court has held that courts should create an exception to this rule only when supported by public policy.

In deciding whether policy supports an exception, California courts analyze the foreseeability of harm, the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered an injury, the policy of preventing future harm, the defendant’s moral blame, the burden on the defendant, the consequences to the community of imposing a duty, and the insurance for the risk.

Here, the court explained, since the general duty to take ordinary care applies to choosing the location of a parking lot, the issue was whether a categorical exception to that general rule should be made, exempting those who own premises alongside a public street from liability to invitees for placing a parking lot in a location requiring invitees to cross the public street. The church argued that it did not owe the plaintiff a duty because the plaintiff did not allege that the church controlled the portion of the street where he was injured.

The California Supreme Court concluded that a landowner does not have a duty to help churchgoers cross a public street when the owner does no more than maintain the parking lot, provided the street’s dangers are not intensified by the owner. Since the plaintiff did not allege that the church did anything other than maintain the parking lot as such, the state high court found that the church did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care to prevent the injury he suffered.

For these reasons, the court reversed the decision of the appeals court and remanded to that court for further proceedings.

This is not the only California case in which a church or its leaders were sued for personal injury in the recent past. However, most of these lawsuits in recent history involve allegations that are sexual in nature. For example, an Orange County jury this summer awarded $2 million in damages to the granddaughter of late televangelist Jan Crouch, finding that the minister acted outrageously when she blamed her granddaughter after the girl told her she had been sexually assaulted by a church employee. The jury decided that Jan Crouch, who co-founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network, caused her granddaughter years of emotional pain and suffering.

When you are injured because of someone else’s negligence, you have a right to be compensated. While it may feel awkward to sue a church, there may be no other choice under certain circumstances. Most churches carry a liability policy that covers accidents on the church grounds and often at church activities, even when they are held far away from the church building. If you have been injured in a church accident, you need to understand your rights.

The premises liability lawyers at Neumann Law Group represent victims throughout the Los Angeles area. Call us at (213) 227-0001 for a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

California Appeals Court Holds Personal Injury Plaintiff’s Appeal is Inadequate for Review, Neumann Law Group, November 9, 2017.

Los Angeles Parking Lot Beating Victim Sues Dodgers, Neumann Law Group, October 16, 2017.

California Woman Secures $417 Verdict from Johnson & Johnson, Neumann Law Group, August 28, 2017.

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