From Dogs to Drunks

Well my last post was so good I did not have the courage to write another. About six months ago we were discussing various scenarios by which a landlord could be held liable in California for injuries or property damage occasioned by her tenants. We discussed how, if she knows about a tenant’s animals’ dangerous propensities, she might have a duty to prevent injuries of property damage to others arising from such dangerous propensities. Citation to the holy hand grenade scene must have subconsciously made me think I had reached my pinnacle in blog writing material. No more blog posts! Until now.


What inspired this sudden turn of events? Alcohol. And a recent Buffalo Wild Wings beer with a Buildium person. As we discussed Buildium and life over beers, it occurred to me that I needed to re-engage the ATPM blog readers regarding the perils of tenants’ overindulgence in alcohol and resultant personal injuries and property damage. Is there liability? If the landlord knows the tenant has a gun and is a heavy drinker, is she liable if the tenant shoots someone while drunk? Is the drinker the equivalent of a dangerous dog?

In California, the landlord will not have a duty where she merely knows the tenant is a drinker and has guns. In one case, the plaintiff was a visitor of the tenants and was shot when the tenant was drinking. The landlord knew the tenant was a drinker and knew he had firearms. The landlord was not aware of any circumstances that suggested the tenant was dangerous with the guns when drinking. So there really was no notice to the landlord of a danger she should have prevented or been warned about. “If the court concludes the injury was not foreseeable, there was no duty.”  Sturgeon v. Curnutt, 29 Cal. App. 4th 301, 306 (1994).  The court here concluded the injury was not foreseeable. And thus the landlord had no duty to prevent it. The landlord won.

In a similar case, a college was exonerated from civil liability for injuries sustained after some students got drunk and went racing.  I’m sorry — “became intoxicated” and “engaged in a speed contest.” In this case, the court held that it was not foreseeable that in-dormitory drinking would lead to an off-campus automobile drag race. The “conduct of students, without known violent propensities and without knowledge that they would drink to excess and thereafter operate motor vehicles, does not rise to the level of foreseeable harm as does a case where the tenant has a known vicious dog.”  Baldwin v. Zoradi, 123 Cal. App. 3d 275, 294 (1981).

Obviously, the appellate justices in that case had not seen the second-greatest movie of all time — Animal House.

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