Business Law

A.L. v. Harbor Developmental Disabilities Foundation (May 30, 2024, B322729) _ Cal.App.5th _ [2024 WL 2762270]

A.L. v. Harbor Developmental Disabilities Foundation (May 30, 2024, B322729) ___ Cal.App.5th ___ [2024 WL 2762270]

Regional centers have no duty to protect consumers from sexual assault by contractors’ employees absent knowledge of their dangerous propensities.

Pursuant to the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 4500 et seq.), California provides services to developmentally disabled individuals through a network of private, nonprofit entities known as regional centers, which assess those individuals’ needs and contract with direct service vendors to meet them.  Harbor Developmental Disabilities Foundation, a regional center, contracted with Round Trip Transportation, Inc., to transport developmentally disabled passengers between their homes and locations where they received needed services.  A.L., a developmentally disabled adult, was a consumer of Harbor’s services who used Round Trip’s transportation program.  A Round Trip employee raped and impregnated A.L.  She sued Harbor, Round Trip, and its employee, alleging in part that Harbor negligently hired Round Trip and negligently monitored Round Trip’s employee training.  The trial court granted Harbor’s motion for summary judgment, and A.L. appealed.

The Court of Appeal affirmed.  The Lanterman Act required Harbor to assess A.L’s needs, coordinate provision of needed services and support, and then monitor the services vendors provided.  These mandates created a special relationship between Harbor and A.L., which gave rise to Harbor’s duty to protect A.L. from sexual abuse.  However, applying the Rowland v. Christian (1986) 69 Cal.2d 108 factors (which weigh foreseeability of harm against the social utility of various activities), the Court of Appeal held that public policy considerations limit the scope of that duty.  It concluded that imposing a broad duty on regional centers would essentially turn them into insurers for any harm done to consumers.  This would, in turn, lead to the closure of these centers, denying necessary services to developmentally disabled persons.  Accordingly, the Court of Appeal held that regional centers have no duty to protect consumers from sexual assault by vendors’ employees unless they have actual knowledge of employees’ propensity to engage in such misconduct.  Here, the Harbor had no reason to know that Round Trip’s employee had such a propensity, so it owed no duty to protect A.L. from being sexually assaulted by that vendor’s employee.

The bulletin describing this appellate decision was originally prepared for the California Society for Healthcare Attorneys (CSHA) by H. Thomas Watson, Peder K. Batalden, and Lacey Estudillo at the appellate firm Horvitz & Levy LLP, and is republished with permission.

For more information regarding this bulletin, please contact H. Thomas Watson, Horvitz & Levy LLP, at 818-995-0800 or

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