MING Qu and Ying Wu were from China and enrolled at the University of Southern California (USC) to study electronic engineering. They were fatally shot while sitting in a parked BMW on Raymond Avenue, less than a mile from campus. Police say the students were killed during a robbery.
The students’ parents filed a wrongful death case against the university. They alleged that the school misled them when it claimed that it ranks among the safest in the nation. They also alleged that USC exercised control over the area where the students were killed, knew that the area was unsafe, and should have provided security for it but did not.
Should USC be liable for injuries caused by the criminal activities of other persons on property adjacent to its campus?
California law imposes a duty on landowners to reasonably prevent injuries to others. Such duty of care requires the landowner to investigate the possible dangers that exist in the property such as the physical condition or any criminal act on the property. The owner has the obligation to adequately warn visitors of dangerous conditions on the property. This duty is owed to persons on and off the premises.
If the property owner knows or should have known of a dangerous condition on the property but fails to do anything about it, the owner may be sued in a premises liability action, and may be held liable for any injuries suffered by visitors.
In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, USC’s attorney said that the university security net can stretch only so far and that the killings occurred three-quarters of a mile from campus in the third tier of security, where officers respond to incidents but do not patrol. USC seems to claim that it does not have “control” of the area where the students were killed, and therefore, should not be held liable for their deaths.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson dismissed the case, saying there are insufficient legal arguments to show a connection between the killings and USC’s claims about the safety of the areas surrounding its campus. The parents plan to appeal the ruling.
Proving the liability of property owners for injuries from crimes committed by strangers on their premises presents challenges. Simply because a person was harmed on the premises does not mean he or she will have remedies. Claimants have to prove that the premises owner could have prevented the crime by the exercise of due care on the premises.
Our law firm previously handled a premises liability action brought by the grieving mother of a teenager who was killed while attending a party at another residence. The party hosts issued an open invitation via flyers to other people. This led to gang-members showing up and disrupting the party. Our client’s son was an innocent attendee who was killed in the ensuing violence. We established that the property owner hosting the party should have provided adequate security in light of its open invitation to the party. The homeowner’s insurance carrier ended up settling the case after we established from the testimonies of several teenage witnesses that there was a lack of adult supervision over the activities in the property.
In another case, our client was injured when she was struck in the head in an attempted robbery while withdrawing money from an ATM machine. Our investigation revealed that there had been several crimes reported in the area. We argued that the bank should have provided adequate lighting and security cameras to prevent these types of attacks against its customers. The case was similarly settled to our client’s benefit.
Premises liability cases often require the use of experts to prove the dangerous condition in the property. It may take a team of attorneys and experts coupled with a reasonable amount of planning and investigation to prove the case and convince the other side that the injured person must be paid.
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C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully obtained significant results, including several million dollar recoveries for consumers against insurance companies and big business. He is a member of the Million Dollar-Advocates Forum—a prestigious group of trial lawyers whose membership is limited to those who have demonstrated exceptional skill, experience and excellence in advocacy. He has been featured in the cover of Los Angeles Daily Journal’s Verdicts and Settlements for his professional accomplishments and recipient of numerous awards from community and media organizations. His litigation practice concentrates in the following areas: serious personal injuries, wrongful death, insurance claims, unfair business practices, wage and hour (overtime) litigation. You can visit his website at www.joesayas law.com or contact his office by telephone at (818) 291-0088.