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What to know about physical assault and premises liability

Not all forms of premises liability involve slipping on a floor or hurting yourself on a flight of stairs. In some places of business, an employee might inflict harm upon or physically attack a customer. Aside from the employee's own personal liability for the assault, there are cases where a California employer can be held liable for the assault as well, if not under the doctrine of premises liability, then under other theories of liability.

As the HRDIRECTOR website explains, sometimes if a worker gets into an altercation with a customer, the employer can be held liable under the legal doctrine of vicarious liability. This doctrine holds that employers are vicariously liable for their workers if they harm another person on account of their actions, whether deliberate or negligent. Vicarious liability may apply even if the employee violated the employer's safety or other protocols in hurting the customer or patron.

However, applying vicarious liability depends, in part, on a concept called "course of employment." If a worker inflicts harm upon a person while engaging in the regular role of the worker's employment duties, then the harm is considered to have occurred during the worker's course of employment. Part of a worker's job may be, for instance, to interact with customers. If the worker turns violent while carrying out this duty, the employer might be held liable. The same logic applies, for example, if a worker injures another person while carelessly driving a forklift.

Sometimes a person may be physically assaulted by another person who is not directly connected to the premises, but the owner of the property might still be liable under California premises liability law. According to Findlaw, if someone is attacked on a property such as a convenience store, a shopping mall, a motel or a university, the victim might be able to obtain compensation for the harm suffered from the property owner if the owner, for example, did not provide proper measures in protecting people from such attacks. A lack of security guards, for instance, might serve as grounds for a negligence claim.

If you have suffered an injury while on someone else's premises you should promptly consult with an attorney for a thorough analysis of the applicable law. 

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