In Raven H. v. Gamette, a California Court of Appeal reviewed a trial court’s dismissal of a case brought against a landlord by a rape victim, who claimed that the landlord was negligent because the condition of his apartment building was a factor that contributed to the attack. The court reversed the lower court’s dismissal, finding that whether the condition of the apartment building contributed to causing the victim’s injuries was a triable issue of fact, and that she therefore had the right to take her case to trial.
Raven H. was a tenant in an Inglewood apartment complex owned by Douglas Gamette (“Gamette”), when in 2003 she was attacked and raped by a man who entered her apartment through an open window. Raven H. sued Gamette, claiming his negligence contributed to the attack because he was aware of other criminal attacks in the immediate area, that window bars protected some of the units at the complex but not hers, that he failed to provide locks that would have allowed windows to open a safe amount, that he failed to maintain an adequate security gate, fencing and lighting, failed to remove overgrown vegetation that allowed cover for potential criminals, and failed to warn his tenants of known criminal activity in the area. The trial court ruled that Raven H. had failed to show a causal link between those conditions and the attack on her, and granted summary judgment for Gamette. Raven H. appealed.
The trial court erred when it granted summary judgment on the grounds that Raven H. had failed to establish a causal connection between the property’s condition and the attack, the court said. She did not need to establish that connection, but merely to raise a triable issue of fact concerning it.
The court found evidence suggesting that steps to keep unauthorized people out of the apartment complex may have been inadequate. Additionally, there was additional evidence that further negligence may have contributed to the attacker’s access to Raven H.’s specific unit, the court said. “We cannot say that a jury could not reasonably find that the absence of the various security measures operated together to facilitate the attack.”
Further, the attacker’s criminal act did not relieve the landlord of liability negligence, the court said. Such a circumstance was considered in Landeros v. Flood (1976) 17 Cal.3d 399, in which the court found that “an intervening act does not amount to a ‘superseding cause’ relieving the negligent defendant of liability.”
Raven H. had raised triable issues on whether the condition of the apartment complex and the unit she rented may have been contributing factors in the attack. The summary judgment was reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings.