The food truck industry has grown substantially in recent years, with industry researchers forecasting growth to generate about $2.7 billion this year – a 12-fold increase from the $650 million they made in 2012, according to the American Restaurant Association. But food truck liability issues may go beyond a case of food poisoning. Although they are acting as restaurants, they are still technically motor vehicles, and they move from place-to-place – sometimes constantly and sometimes to the same scheduled place every day or week.
This hybrid status can raise questions if someone is injured by a food truck accident. Obviously, if a crash occurs on the road with a food truck, as it did in a fatal food truck crash in Washington state last year, one might pursue a typical motor vehicle accident claim, with possible claims also against the owner of the business and/or vehicle if different from the driver. However, if an incident occurs in a parking lot, that can raise questions as to whether this is a straight motor vehicle claim or whether it may also give rise to premises liability claims, which hold property owners and controllers responsible for creating or failing to mitigate risks on their property.
An increasing number of businesses are welcoming food truck vendors on site to offer a variety of choices to patrons. This can leave the liability issue a bit murky, which is why if you’re injured, it will be essential to have the best injury attorney working on your behalf.
Recently in California, an appellate court weighed a premises liability claim about whether a parking lot owner who leased space to mobile food truck vendors could be liable for damages caused by one of those vendors who struck a customer and then dragged them as they exited the parking lot.
According to court records, defendant was a gas station in L.A. that leased parking lot space to owners of mobile food trucks, including the taco truck driver in question, from 4 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Sunday. The parking lot owner did not specifically require the taco truck owners to provide security or parking lot attendants, but he would later say he believed an outside security firm was hired by the truck owners to keep customers’ cars organized where they operated.
On the day in question, plaintiffs (husband, wife) and their friend drove to the parking lot to get food. The parking lot was crowded and plaintiff husband/ driver backed up to exit the lot (as there were no open spaces) but as he did so, he hit the front of another car driven by someone else. That caused property damage to plaintiffs’ car, but no one was hurt. Plaintiff said the other driver was angry, but plaintiff immediately admitted fault and assured him he had insurance and asked the driver several times to wait so they could exchange insurance information. Instead, the other driver got into his vehicle and without warning backed up into the street and sped away, striking plaintiff husband and dragging him into the street, causing serious bodily injury.
Plaintiffs sued the parking lot owner and the food truck operator for premises liability, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff alleged the personal injuries were the result of inadequate parking, as well as lack of parking attendants/ security and failure to designate a parking area for the tacos stand and other failures to take adequate safety measures.
Defendant property owner moved for summary judgment, asserting the negligence alleged was not the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries and the actions of the other driver (who was never identified) were the superseding cause of his injuries. Trial court initially denied this motion, but asked for more information on the issue of duty based on foreseeability. After consideration of those briefs, the court chose to grant the defense motion, finding there was no way the property owner could have reasonably foreseen the other driver’s actions. The appellate court affirmed.
Cases involving food trucks and parking lot injuries are inherently going to be a bit more complicated than most just because we’re likely talking about more than one defendant and various questions about who owed a duty of care, who was responsible for security, who provided the insurance, etc.
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Sakai v. Massco Investments, LLC, March 1, 2018, California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division One
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