My paralegal, Anne, buzzed me: “You have a woman on the phone who is crying. Her car was stolen from the parking lot of a motel, and she can’t get anyone to help her.” I took the call immediately.
“Emma” explained that she and her husband were fleeing Northern California fires, spent a night at a motel, discovering, ‘Our 2009 Hummer H2 with 45,000 miles on it was stolen sometime in the early morning hours. The motel’s parking lot is not gated or fenced, and there were no video cameras, bright lighting or security guards.”
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“The motel’s insurance company has denied responsibility, but because it happened on their property, doesn’t this make them liable? Also, a police officer said there have been several vehicle thefts in this general area.”
Is the motel on the hook for her Hummer? And how much is it worth?
“This was the last year Hummers were manufactured. An H2 with this low mileage, in good to excellent condition would sell for around $70,000,” Cooper Johnson of A&L Imports in Colleyville, Texas, told me.
Does the fact of being parked on the motel’s property alone make the motel financially responsible? And what about the couple’s auto insurance?
For an answer, I turned to La Jolla, Calif., attorney Evan Walker (evanwalkerlaw.com), whose practice concentrates on property damage cases.
Was the Motel Negligent, Failing to Use Reasonable Care to Protect Guests?
“The operative legal terms and concepts here are negligence and reasonable. A business owner must use reasonable care to protect customers and guests from another person’s harmful conduct on the property if that conduct can be reasonably predicted. Walker lists three questions that must be answered:
Did the business reasonably anticipate negligent or criminal conduct of a third party on their property?If that conduct can’t be reasonably anticipated, they do not have to take proactive steps.
But if they are aware this activity is going on, there is an affirmative duty to take reasonable care to protect the people who come onto the property.
So, what is reasonable care? Cameras, security guards, security lights?
“What’s reasonable in each case is determined by the circ