Washington Appeals Court Holds Denny’s Not Liable for Criminal Attack on Patron

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.

The court listed a number of factors to be considered in determining the reasonable foreseeability of criminal activity:  (1) the imminence of the attack, (2) the known criminal propensities of the attacker, (3) the neighborhood of the business, (4) the character of the defendant’s business, and (5) the history of the business. The court then reviewed the evidence and found that the attacker had not threatened or touched the plaintiff before the assault, and the attacker had no criminal history, nor would his criminal history have been known by Denny’s. The court rejected the idea that a business located in an urban area with a high incidence of crime would impose a duty, although the Denny’s in question was not determined to be in such an area. Finally, although there was a report of an altercation in the Denny’s parking lot at one time, the court explained that any prior acts of violence on the business premises must have been sufficiently similar in nature and location to the criminal act that injured the plaintiff, sufficiently close in time to the criminal act, and sufficiently numerous. In upholding the lower court’s decision, the Court of Appeals found that no such circumstances existed in the Crill case to create a duty on the part of Denny’s because the attack to the plaintiff was not reasonably foreseeable.

If you have been injured in an accident while on the property of another person or business, you may be able to pursue compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages caused by a negligent party. The personal injury attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC provide knowledgeable and trusted legal guidance to accident victims in Washington, as well as advice in criminal and family law matters. To discuss your case with one of our attorneys, contact our office at (206) 622-6562 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Washington Appeals Court Examines Jury Award in Car Accident Case, Affirms Judge’s Grant of Additur, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published September 25, 2015

NHTSA: Drugged Drivers no more likely to crash than Drunk Drivers, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published March 25, 2015


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