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Sprecher v. Adamson Cos. - 30 Cal. 3d 358, 178 Cal. Rptr. 783, 636 P.2d 1121 (1981)

Rule:

Everyone is responsible for injury caused to another by his want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his property. The factors that may warrant a departure from this fundamental principle do not warrant the wholesale immunity resulting from the common law distinction. The proper test to be applied to the liability of the possessor of land is whether in the management of his property he has acted as a reasonable person in view of the probability of injury to others. 

Facts:

Respondent South Winter Mesa Associates, a joint venture between respondents Adamson Companies and Century-Malibu Ventures, Inc. (collectively, "Adamson"), owned a 90-acre parcel of land, which was bounded on the north by a highway and on the south by a road. Across the road and opposite Adamson's parcel were a number of beach front homes, including the home of appellant Peter Sprecher. Adamson's parcel contained part of an active landslide; the parties agreed that the slide was a natural condition that was not affected by any of Adamson's activities on its parcel. In March 1978, heavy spring rains triggered a major movement of the slide which caused Sprecher's home to rotate and to press against the home of his neighbor, Gwendolyn Sexton. As a result, Sexton filed an action against Sprecher in California state court seeking to enjoin the encroachment of his home upon hers. Sprecher filed a cross-complaint against Sexton, the County of Los Angeles and Adamson. Specifically, Sprecher sought damages for the harm done to his home by the landslide. He alleged that such damage proximately resulted from Adamson's negligent failure to correct or to control the landslide condition. Adamson filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Sprecher appealed.

Issue:

Did landowners have the duty to remedy a natural condition of the land in order to prevent harm to property outside its premises?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The state supreme court held that a possessor of land was no longer immunized, under the traditional rule, from liability for harm caused by the natural condition of his land to persons outside his premises. In rejecting the distinction between artificial and natural conditions, the court further held that a possessor's exposure to liability was to be determined by reference to ordinary principles of negligence. Thus, the court held that the basic policy of the state was that everyone was responsible for any injury caused to another by his want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his property, and that the question was whether the possessor of land acted as a reasonable person under all the circumstances. However, the court ruled that the grant of summary judgment was premature and the decision was reversed and remanded accordingly for further proceedings consistent with court's opinion. Triable issues of fact were presented regarding the reasonableness of Adamson's failure to correct or control the natural condition of the slide, despite expert testimony as to the great expense for corrective measures, since the evidence did not conclusively establish that no rational inference of negligence could be drawn under the circumstances. 

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