[COLUMN] Employees injured in off-work premises: Are employers or property owners liable?

CAROL Holaday and her husband Jim Willcoxson were employed by Colonial Van & Storage, Inc., a moving and storage company in Fresno, CA. Holaday was a supervisor and long-haul dispatcher. She worked at Colonial’s Fresno office but was authorized to work at home. Holaday often had coworkers visit her home for social and work-related reasons. Willcoxson was a Colonial sales representative.

Kyle Holaday, the 26 years-old son of Holaday and Wilcoxson, was an Iraq and Afghanistan wars veteran and suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD for which he was being treated. He was unemployed and lived with his parents. He had a history of self-harm and misuse of firearms.

Crystal Dominguez was a Colonial employee and worked with Holaday. She was a frequent visitor to Holaday’s home and considered Kyle a friend. Rachel Schindler knew Holaday in a business capacity, had been to her home a few times, but had only briefly met Kyle.

On the evening of March 24, 2017, Holaday and Willcoxson hosted a dinner in their Fresno home for Dominguez and Schindler. Schindler brought her five-month-old daughter with her. The four adults were socializing, but also networking and engaged in job-related tasks. Kyle acknowledged the guests when they arrived, sat in the living room, and looked at his cell phone.

Willcoxson went into the kitchen while the three women talked in the living room. Kyle left the living room and returned with a handgun and began firing. He shot and killed Willcoxson and a family dog and wounded Holaday, Dominguez, and Schindler. A bullet grazed the baby’s ear. Kyle fled from the home and was struck by a moving car when he ran into the street. Police arrived and arrested him.

Dominguez and Schindler both filed a lawsuit against Holaday and her employer, Colonial, for personal injury damages. Dominguez claimed negligent supervision against Holaday and alleged Colonial was vicariously liable for Holaday’s misconduct pursuant to the doctrine of respondeat superior (i.e., a doctrine that holds an employer is legally responsible for the wrongful acts of an employee, if such acts occur within the scope of the employment).

Colonial asked the court to dismiss the case against it. Dominguez and Schindler argued that an employer has an affirmative duty to provide employees with a safe place to work which, in this case included the employee’s home as an off-site work premises. The Court of Appeal, thus, had to answer this question: Does the employer have a duty to ensure that an off-site meeting place for coworkers like an employee’s private residence is safe from third party criminal harm? Citing public policy and privacy reasons, the Court answered: No. [The lower court was then ordered to dismiss the case against the employer.]

However, the case against Holaday remained. The question then is: What is the homeowner’s duty of care to visitors on their premises?

California law generally requires property owners to provide reasonably safe conditions for those who visit their properties. Owners have a responsibility to maintain their properties to avoid risks of accidents and injuries.

However, mere injuries to guests on the premises does not mean owners are automatically liable. The injured person and their attorneys will have to prove that the injury was caused by a dangerous condition in the premises. In the end, it will take the combined effort of technical experts, attorneys, and medical providers working together to present a true picture of the mechanics of the accident and the resulting injuries in order to recover adequate compensation for the injured.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. [For more than 25 years, C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is a past Presidential Awardee for Outstanding Filipino Overseas.]

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