Calif. Court Affirms Ruling in Wrongful Death Suit

Los Angeles Partners David Shapiro and Christopher Greenleaf and Los Angeles Appellate Partner Caroline Chan recently prevailed in an appeal from a summary judgment ruling in favor of the defendants in a wrongful death premises liability lawsuit.

The plaintiffs alleged the defendants, a convenience store franchisor and franchisee, acted negligently by not hiring a security guard to protect against the murder of the plaintiffs' son. The decedent was working as a store clerk when the store was robbed, and he was subsequently subpoenaed to testify at the criminal assailant's trial. The alleged robber or his girlfriend killed the decedent just after he left the store to go testify in court.

The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding no duty and no causation. The court concluded that it was not foreseeable that someone would murder the decedent. The court also found that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the presence of a security guard would have prevented the killing.

On appeal, the plaintiffs presented a new argument that when an employee is killed during the course of employment by an employer purportedly lacking workers’ compensation insurance, the employer’s negligence is presumed.

As the plaintiffs failed to plead or make this argument in the trial court, the Court of Appeal concluded that the plaintiffs forfeited this new argument and affirmed the grant of summary judgment. The appellate court also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that knowledge of prior store robberies and the decedent’s intent to testify as a witness at the trial of the third-party criminal assailant made the killing reasonably foreseeable so as to give rise to a duty to hire a guard. The Court of Appeals ruled that the defendants had no duty to employ a security guard.

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