Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Court: AA Meeting Host Not Responsible for Attack on Woman Away From Premises
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal yesterday threw out claims against the operator of a facility that hosts Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
The plaintiff, identified as Jane Roe, says she was assaulted by a man she met at the meetings. Although the assaults allegedly took place at the attacker’s trailer, Roe alleged H.O.W. Hall, Inc. was liable because it should have known the assailant used AA functions to prey on women but didn’t protect or warn women who came to the meetings.
An Orange Superior Court judge granted summary adjudication on a portion of the suit, but ruled that triable issues existed as to whether the defendant owed plaintiff a duty of care with respect to her causes of action for negligent failure to warn and negligent failure to take reasonable protective measures.
But Justice William Rylaarsdam wrote in an unpublished opinion that as a mere facilities lessor, the defendant’s duties to attendees did not extend to protecting them from attacks taking place away from the facility.
“Petitioner did not exercise control over AA meetings or AA’s member,” the justice wrote. “It merely leased a space to AA and other similar programs for meetings. Contrary to Roe’s argument, petitioner did not conduct or monitor AA meetings, maintain lists of who attended them, or have any means of contacting meeting participants. While some of the AA groups that used petitioner’s premises kept telephone lists of participants, petitioner did not maintain any such list. Further, petitioner relied on the persons conducting meetings to ensure compliance with its posted rules concerning maintenance of the facility and the behavior of AA members on the premises.”
While the defendant may have known or suspected that the attacker had unhealthy proclivities toward women, the justice went on to say, there was little it could have done about them.
“[T]he issuance of either a warning or a declaration banning [William] Bastedo from the premises present significant problems,” he wrote, given that the information on which it would have been based would have been unverified, and would have subjected H.O.W. Hall to a defamation suit.
“In addition, the consequences of imposing a duty in a case such as this one would be detrimental to the efforts of AA and similar programs that seek to help persons overcome substance abuse,” Rylaarsdam said. “Requiring one who leases space for such programs to issue even a generic warning about the possibility of sexual predators would discourage AA members from feeling comfortable in discussing their personal issues that are frequently obstacles to overcoming alcoholism or drug abuse. And a requirement that an entity bar access to certain persons suspected of causing problems might weaken the resolve of AA participants or their sponsors to offer assistance to others lest their efforts be misconstrued.”
The case is H.O.W. Hall, Inc. v. Superior Court (Roe), G052123.
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