Myles M. Mattenson
5550 Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Suite 200
Woodland Hills, California 91367
Telephone (818) 313-9060
Facsimile (818) 313-9260
"A Customer Or Employee Is Assaulted In Your Coin Laundry"

      Myles M. Mattenson engages in a general civil and trial practice including litigation and transactional services relating to the coin laundry and dry cleaning industries, franchising, business, purchase and sale of real estate, easements, landlord-tenant, partnership, corporate, insurance bad faith, personal injury, and probate legal matters.

      In providing services to the coin laundry and dry cleaning industries, Mr. Mattenson has represented equipment distributors, coin laundry and dry cleaning business owners confronted with landlord-tenant issues, lease negotiations, sale documentation including agreements, escrow instructions, and security instruments, as well as fraud or misrepresentation controversies between buyers and sellers of such businesses.

      Mr. Mattenson serves as an Arbitrator for the Los Angeles County Superior Court. He is also past chair of the Law Office Management Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. Mr. Mattenson received his Bachelor of Science degree (Accounting) in 1964 and his Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola University School of Law in 1967.

      Bi-monthly articles by Mr. Mattenson on legal matters of interest to the business community appear in alternate months in The Journal, a leading coin laundry industry publication of the Coin Laundry Association, and Fabricare, a leading dry cleaning industry publication of the International Fabricare Institute. During the period of May 1995 through September 2002, Mr. Mattenson contributed similar articles to New Era Magazine, a coin laundry and dry cleaning industry publication which ceased publication with the September 2002 issue.

      This website contains copies of Mr. Mattenson's New Era Magazine articles which can be retrieved through a subject or chronological index. The website also contains copies of Mr. Mattenson's Journal and Fabricare articles, which can be retrieved through a chronological index.

      In addition to Mr. Mattenson's trial practice, he has successfully prosecuted and defended appeals on behalf of his clients in various areas of the law. Some of these appellate decisions are contained within his website.



            A customer during the late evening hours is physically assaulted within your premises.  Or an attendant employed by you to assist customers and keep your coin laundry clean is assaulted. Is there an obligation upon you or your shopping center landlord to provide a security guard to deter criminal misconduct?


            The California Supreme Court provided some guidance on this subject in a decision issued on December 16, 1993, regarding an incident which occurred on June 17, 1985.  As you can thus observe, it sometimes takes a bit of time to obtain a review of a trial court decision by the California Supreme Court.


            On June 17, 1985, a woman identified in the opinion as "Ann M.", was employed by a photo processing service located in the Pacific Plaza Shopping Center, a strip mall in San Diego, California.  The shopping center was generally occupied by approximately 25 commercial tenants.  According to the opinion,


            "At approximately 8 a.m. on June 17, Ann M. opened the photo store for business.  She was the only employee with a 'drop gate' that was designed to prevent customer access behind the counter but it had been broken for some period of time.  Shortly after Ann M. opened the store, a man she had never seen before walked in 'just like a customer'.  Ann M. greeted the man, told him that she would assist him shortly, and turned her back to the counter.  The man, who was armed with a knife, went behind the counter, raped Ann M., robbed the store, and fled.  The rapist was not apprehended."


            Subsequently, Ann M. filed a civil complaint for damages alleging causes of action against the owner and operator of the photo processing service, the shopping center, and the company employed to manage the shopping center.  She also filed a worker's compensation claim against her employer for which she was awarded benefits.  Worker's compensation was deemed to be her exclusive remedy against her employer, and, as a result, the suit against the owner and operator of the photo processing service was subsequently dismissed.


            The lease between the photo processing store and the shopping center provided the owners of the shopping center with the exclusive right to control the common areas.  Although the lease gave the shopping center the right to police the common areas, it did not impose an obligation to either police the common areas or those areas under the exclusive control and management of the tenants.  If the shopping center had provided walking patrols by security guards, the tenants would have borne the cost in the form of additional rent.  No security guards were in fact hired by the shopping center.


            According to deposition testimony, tenants, through a merchants' association, had complained about a lack of security in the shopping center and the presence of transients.  The merchants' association took the step of hiring a security company to drive by the area three or four times a day.


            Ann M. essentially argued that the shopping center's failure to provide walking security patrols in the common areas constituted negligence.


            The Supreme Court held that it would impose the duty to take affirmative action to control criminal misconduct only in situations where such misconduct is foreseeable i.e., where such conduct can be reasonably anticipated.  The Supreme Court determined that in the Ann M. case, "violent criminal assaults were not sufficiently foreseeable to impose a duty upon Pacific Plaza to provide security guards in the common areas."  The Court observed:


"While there may be circumstances where the hiring of security guards will be required to satisfy a landowner's duty of care, such action will rarely, if ever, be found to be a 'minimal burden.' The monetary costs of security guards is not insignificant.  Moreover, the obligation to provide patrols adequate to deter criminal conduct is not well defined.  'No one really knows why people commit crime, hence no one really knows what is 'adequate' deterrence in any given situation' . . . . Finally, the social costs of imposing a duty on landowners to hire private police forces are also not insignificant. . . .  For these reasons, we conclude that a high degree of foreseeability is required in order to find that the scope of a landlord's duty of care includes the hiring of security guards.  We further conclude that the requisite degree of foreseeability rarely, if ever, can be proven in the absence of prior similar incidents of violent crime on the landowner's premises.  To hold otherwise would be to impose an unfair burden upon landlords and, in effect, would force landlords to become the insurers of public safety, contrary to well-established policy in this state."


            The Supreme Court, however, also noted that "it is possible that some other circumstances such as immediate proximity to a substantially similar business establishment that has experienced violent crime on its premises could provide the requisite degree of foreseeability."  Ann M. did not present any such evidence, however.  Since Ann M. was unable to demonstrate that Pacific Plaza had knowledge of prior similar incidents occurring on the premises, the court concluded that the physical violence suffered by Ann M. was not sufficiently foreseeable to impose a duty upon the landlord to provide security guards in the common areas, and upheld judgment for the defendant shopping center.


            So if physical assaults have been a regular occurrence at your coin laundry, the courts will conclude that further assaults were foreseeable and likely hold you responsible for the injuries of a customer.  If your coin laundry is situated in a shopping center, the shopping center landlord will have similar liability.


            As indicated above, workers’ compensation will be deemed to be the exclusive remedy of an employee against you.  If you think your premiums are high now, watch your premiums take off like an unguided missile in the event you suffer this type of claim!


            Sometimes things don’t go right even if you have a security guard protecting your business.  In another action, Oliver, a minor, and a friend walked to a McDonald’s restaurant in Santa Barbara.  Since kids, panhandlers and others were generally to be seen milling about on the sidewalk in the area, the management of the shopping center had a security guard on duty.


As the two young men approached the entrance to McDonald’s, one of a group of other kids “hanging out” in front of McConnell’s Ice Cream shop near McDonald’s started a dispute.  A girl took a swing at Oliver and a nearby security guard grabbed her and took her away  to an area outside McDonald’s.  Other kids starting hitting Oliver, injuring him in the melee.  The security guard did not return until after the fight ended.


In determining that Oliver’s claim could proceed to trial, the court observed as follows:


“Here, the security guard saw the group of youths surround Oliver in McDonald’s.  He was present when threats to Oliver were made.  Although he did remove the girl who took a swing at Oliver, the security guard did not extricate Oliver from the threatening situation, tell the threatening group to leave, immediately call the police or return quickly to quell the disturbance.  Whether the security guard acted reasonably under the circumstances and whether his acts were a substantial factor in causing Oliver’s injuries are questions of fact to be resolved by trial.”


            The moral of the story?  Take every step to prevent your coin laundry from being an inviting place for violence.  The alternative will likely be higher insurance premiums and the additional cost of providing security at your business!

[This column is intended to provide general information only  and
is  not intended to provide specific legal advice; if you have  a
specific  question  regarding the  law,  you  should  contact  an
attorney  of your choice.  Suggestions for topics to be discussed
in this column are welcome.]

Reprinted from The Journal
Myles M. Mattenson © 2005