a black homeless man sitting on a curb in Los Angeles around bags of trash

What to do if you are injured by a homeless person in California?

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

California is often portrayed as an idyllic paradise in movies and TV, however, in reality the state suffers from many social issues, such as rampant homelessness and an inability or unwillingness for elected officials to adequately address the problem. With so many people in misery and poverty roaming the streets of California, it is inevitable that injuries could happen when an altercation or misunderstanding occurs involving California’s homeless.

If you have been injured by a homeless person in California, you may believe you have no recourse, considering the offender clearly does not have any money to give if a judgment is decided against them. However, that may not always be the case. Many times a third party is actually responsible for not protecting their property, customers or the public from a threat that they should have stopped.

Read below to learn more about your options if you have been injured in an altercation involving the homeless.

What to do after being injured by a homeless person

If you’re injured by a homeless person in California, there are several steps you should take and legal considerations to be aware of:

Immediate Steps:

1. Seek Medical Attention: Your health and safety are paramount. Get medical help immediately.

2. Report the Incident: Contact the police to report the incident. This is important for legal and safety reasons.

3. Document the Incident: If possible, take photos of your injuries, the location, and anything else relevant. Get contact information from any witnesses.

4. Preserve Evidence: Keep any physical evidence and document all medical treatments.

Legal Considerations:

1. Criminal Charges: If the homeless person committed a crime (like assault), they can be prosecuted. However, the decision to press charges is made by the District Attorney’s office, not the victim.

2. Civil Liability: You may consider a civil lawsuit for damages. However, collecting damages from a homeless individual can be challenging due to their lack of financial resources.

3. Homeowner’s or Business Insurance: If the incident occurred on private property, the property owner’s insurance might cover some damages.

4. Government Liability: In rare cases, if the injury occurred due to negligence on the part of a government entity (e.g., failure to maintain safe public spaces), there might be a case against the government. However, this is complex and often requires legal expertise.

5. Self-Defense Laws: If you defended yourself, California’s self-defense laws could be relevant, especially if you’re facing accusations of excessive force.

Legal Assistance:

Consult a Lawyer: A personal injury attorney can advise on the viability of a lawsuit and help navigate the legal system.

Legal Aid Services: If you cannot afford a lawyer, look for legal aid organizations in California that offer free or low-cost services.

California Laws to Consider:

Civil Code Section 1714: Establishes that everyone is responsible for an injury occasioned to another by their want of ordinary care or skill.

Government Code Section 835: Pertains to liability of public entities.

Penal Codes: Relevant if the act was a criminal offense (like assault).


– The legal process can be complex and varies depending on the specifics of the case.

– The likelihood of recovering significant damages from a homeless individual is generally low due to their lack of financial resources.

Who is legally liable for damages if a homeless person injures someone in California and can’t pay?

In California, determining legal liability for damages when a homeless person injures someone and cannot pay can be complex. Here are some key considerations:

1. Direct Liability of the Homeless Individual: Legally, the person who causes harm is typically responsible for the damages. However, in the case of a homeless person, their lack of financial resources often means they cannot pay for the damages they’ve caused.

2. Property Owner’s Liability: If the incident occurred on private property, the property owner might be held liable, especially if it can be demonstrated that the property owner was negligent in maintaining a safe environment. This is based on premises liability law.

3. Municipal or Government Liability: In certain circumstances, if the injury occurred due to negligence on the part of a government entity (such as failing to maintain safe public spaces or not addressing known hazards), the government entity might be liable. However, claims against government entities are subject to strict procedural rules and are often more challenging to pursue.

4. Insurance Coverage: If the victim has insurance, such as health insurance or uninsured motorist coverage, they might receive some compensation for their injuries through their own policy.

5. Victim Compensation Funds: In some cases, victims of crimes can seek compensation from state victim compensation funds. If the act committed by the homeless person was a criminal offense, the victim might be eligible for such compensation.

6. Charitable Assistance: Occasionally, non-profit organizations or community funds might offer assistance to victims of such incidents, although this is not a legal liability issue.

7. No Recovery in Some Cases: In many situations, if the person responsible cannot pay and no other entity is found liable, the victim may not be able to recover damages.

It’s important to note that each case is unique, and liability can vary greatly depending on the specific circumstances. Legal advice from a qualified attorney is essential in these cases to explore all possible avenues for compensation and to understand the legal implications of the situation.

How common are injuries involving homeless people in Los Angeles?

According to the LAPD, crime involving the homeless – that is, where either the suspect, the victim or both were homeless – makes up less than 1/10th  of all crime in L.A.. About 6% in 2018, 7% in 2019, and 8% in 2020. Of those crimes, only a portion result in injuries, so it is fairly uncommon for a homeless person to injure another person in Los Angeles or California.

Determining the exact frequency of injuries involving homeless people in California is challenging, as specific statistics on such incidents aren’t readily available. However, we can look at the broader context of homelessness in California to understand the environment in which these incidents might occur.

California has a significant homeless population, accounting for about 28% of the nation’s homeless people, which was about 181,399 individuals in 2023. The state has a higher rate of unsheltered homeless individuals compared to many other states, with 68% of its homeless population living unsheltered. This is in contrast to states like New York, where the majority of homeless individuals are sheltered. In major California cities like San Jose, Los Angeles, Oakland, Long Beach, and Sacramento, more than 70% of people experiencing homelessness were unsheltered.

The state’s homeless population is diverse and includes a significant number of elderly individuals, families, and unaccompanied youths. Mental health issues and substance use are prevalent among the homeless population, which can contribute to both their vulnerability and the potential for incidents that might lead to injuries.

A comprehensive study of homelessness in California found that many individuals experience multiple forms of trauma, mental health challenges, and physical or sexual violence. About a third of the homeless population had visited an Emergency Department in the prior six months, indicating a high level of health-related emergencies which could include injuries【10†source】.

While these statistics don’t provide direct numbers on injuries caused by or to homeless individuals, they do highlight the challenging circumstances surrounding the homeless population in California. The high rate of unsheltered homelessness, coupled with mental health and substance use issues, suggests that interactions leading to injuries could be more common in areas with high rates of homelessness.

Given the complexity and diversity of the homeless population in California, it’s important to approach this issue with a nuanced understanding of the various factors at play. The state’s approach to homelessness, focusing on providing housing and supportive services, aims to address some of these underlying issues, which could indirectly impact the frequency of such incidents.

What can you do to minimize your risks or being injured when around aggressive homeless people?

Dealing with potentially aggressive individuals, including homeless people, requires a combination of empathy, situational awareness, and safety precautions. Here are some tips to help minimize your risk when around aggressive homeless individuals:

1. Maintain Distance: If you encounter a homeless person who appears agitated or aggressive, try to maintain a safe distance. Give them space to de-escalate if possible.

2. Stay Calm: It’s essential to remain calm and composed. Agitated behavior can escalate if met with aggression or fear. Speak in a calm and non-confrontational manner.

3. Avoid Eye Contact: In some situations, avoiding direct eye contact can be helpful. Eye contact can be perceived as confrontational or threatening in some cases.

4. Use Verbal Communication: Engage in polite conversation if the individual is willing to talk. Ask if they need help or if there’s anything you can do for them. Sometimes, a compassionate conversation can de-escalate a situation.

5. Don’t Provoke: Avoid provoking or challenging the individual. Do not insult, taunt, or make offensive remarks, as this can escalate the situation.

6. Have an Exit Strategy: Always be aware of your surroundings and have an exit strategy in mind. Know where you can go for safety if the situation escalates.

7. Travel in Groups: When possible, travel with friends or in groups, as there is safety in numbers.

8. Avoid Confrontation: If the person becomes physically aggressive, it’s essential to avoid physical confrontation whenever possible. Your safety should be your top priority.

9. Call for Help: If you feel threatened or if the individual’s behavior becomes dangerous, call the police or emergency services. Provide them with your location and a description of the situation.

10. Carry a Personal Safety Device: Consider carrying a personal safety device, such as a whistle or a personal alarm, to attract attention if you’re in distress.

11. Stay in Well-Lit Areas: When walking or spending time in public places, especially at night, stay in well-lit areas where there are more people around.

12. Trust Your Instincts: If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and remove yourself from the situation. It’s better to be cautious than to take unnecessary risks.

Remember that homelessness itself is a complex issue, and individuals experiencing homelessness may have various reasons for their circumstances. It’s essential to approach these situations with empathy and understanding while also prioritizing your safety. If you frequently encounter such situations in your community, consider getting involved in local organizations or initiatives that address homelessness and work to provide support and solutions for those in need.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.