Oregon Case Law Update: When Does a Business have a Duty to Protect Patrons from Violence?

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Oregon Case Law Update: When Does a Business have a Duty to Protect Patrons from Violence?

From the desk of Jeff Eberhard: In this case, a teenage exchange student was waiting in line at an underage nightclub when she was shot and killed.  The trial court dismissed the claim against the nightclub on the grounds the harm was not foreseeable, but the Court of Appeals reversed.  Read on to see how the Oregon Supreme Court ruled.

Claims Pointer: Under Oregon law, a business generally has a duty to protect its patrons from foreseeable harms.  Harm caused by criminal activity is usually not foreseeable unless there is a history of criminal conduct in the area, and the business is or should be on notice of the same general type of harm.  But when the harm is a random shooting by a mentally ill individual, is it reasonable to find such a harm foreseeable?  The Supreme Court held that the facts pleaded by the plaintiff—that there was a history of violent crime in the area and that the nightclub was on notice of that history—were sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.  This case is an important reminder that a plaintiff’s claims will likely not be dismissed on the issue of foreseeability of criminal violence if the plaintiff also alleges the defendant is or should be on notice of past criminal violence.

Piazza v. Kellim, 360 Or 58 (July 21, 2016).

Note: This appeal arose out of a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint. Typically, success on this type of motion is difficult. Merely because an appellate court reverses the granting of a motion to dismiss does not mean that the plaintiff has a valid claim; rather, it means that discovery should be allowed and the case can later be decided by either summary judgment or trial.

Martha Delgado (“Delgado”) was a teenage foreign exchange student from Peru staying with a Washington State host family under the supervision of Rotary International.  On January 24, 2009, she and a group of approximately...

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