In a recent opinion concerning premises liability, the Washington Court of Appeals analyzed the issue of business liability for injuries caused by one customer assaulting another customer. In Crill v. WRBF, Inc., No. 31912-1-III (Wash. Ct. App. Sept. 3, 2015), the plaintiff sued a Denny’s restaurant after she was struck on the back of the head by an intoxicated diner at 2:00 a.m. in the restaurant. After discovery was completed, the defendant moved for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court. The plaintiff appealed that decision. The Court of Appeals ultimately held that the restaurant had no duty to prevent the attack, since a lack of similar prior incidents rendered the assault unforeseeable.
The elements of a negligence action are: (1) the existence of a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) causation between the breach and the accident; and (4) quantifiable damages that were incurred. A defendant generally has no duty to prevent criminal acts by a third party, unless a special relationship exists between the victim and the defendant. A business owner, such as Denny’s, is deemed by law to have a special relationship with its business invitees, such as the Crill plaintiff, thus creating a duty to protect her from criminal conduct by third parties. The court must then determine whether the risk that caused the plaintiff’s injury was reasonably foreseeable to Denny’s.