Phillip Neiman was a guest at the Motel 6 when he was walking to his room from his car in the parking lot. He was approached by a man who was later identified as Leroy Johnson. Neiman alleged that Johnson initially made pleasant conversation about the weather, but when Neiman opened his room door, Johnson told Neiman he was robbing him. Neiman believed Johnson had a gun under his shirt and complied with his request. Johnson entered Neiman’s room, stole his money, beat him up and left. Neiman was severely injured and required more than 500 stitches to repair his slashed throat and finger.
Neiman sued the motel for damages and claimed that the robbery would not have occurred had there been surveillance cameras and security officers on the premises. The motel owners filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing it did not owe Neiman a duty to protect him from the random criminal acts of third parties. In support of its motion for summary judgment, the motel argued there had never been a violent attack on their premises before; therefore, there was no foreseeable need to employ enhanced security measures.
In opposition to the motel’s motion, Neiman cited three alleged incidents where guests were injured on the motel’s property. During one incident, a transient allegedly hit a guest with a glass bottle in the parking lot. In another alleged incident, guests were tied up in bed sheets and motel property was taken. In the third incident cited by Neiman, a man tried to push his way into a guest room after knocking on the door.
The trial court granted the motel’s motion for summary judgment. The trial court concluded the prior incidents cited by Neiman were not sufficiently similar to the attack on Neiman to create a duty to protect him from the criminal acts of third persons. Neiman appealed.
The state court of appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling on different grounds. The court held Neiman failed to provide evidence that the motel’s failure to provide security caused his harm. There was no evidence that a security officer or surveillance system would have deterred Neiman’s attacker from robbing and assaulting him. Furthermore, the court of appeal noted that assaults can occur even with the highest level of security. Similarly, the appellate court rejected Neiman’s argument that the motel breached their duty to provide safe premises for him and other guests because Neiman failed to show a causal connection between his injury and the motel’s alleged breach of the duty of care.
Causation is a key element in establishing a property or business owner’s negligence. In this case, the court concluded the plaintiff’s allegation of the defendant’s “abstract negligence” was not sufficient to establish liability in the absence of any evidence that the defendant’s failure to deter the violence of a third person caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
(Neiman v. Motel 6, Operating L.P., No. F064476, California Court of Appeal, July 16, 2013, unpublished. Source: Security Law Newsletter, published monthly by Strafford Publications, Atlanta, GA., www.straffordpub.com, 800-926-7926, ext. 10, firstname.lastname@example.org.)