Retailers & "Duty of Care"

Nov. 8, 2011

When does a retailer have a duty to their customers to provide a safe shopping experience? When should a retailer know that a safety or security issue exists and take appropriate action to try alleviating or reducing the risk?

 In a Mississippi case, a man and his wife were traveling to their grandson’s high school sporting event in an area they were not familiar with. It was a dark and raining night when they pulled off the interstate and entered the parking lot of a gas station/carryout to ask for directions. As the man exited his car and started walking to the carryout he noticed some shadows moving off to the side in a darkened area of the parking lot. He sensed the figures moving towards his car, where his wife had remained. Three of the figures were moving towards the passenger side of the car and one towards the drivers side.

The man turned and started walking back to his car and the figures, now identified as four young men, caught up with him as he tried to reenter his car. With his car door open, one of the youths demanded money and as the man continued to try to enter his car, shot him once. His wife was able to close the driver’s door and flee the scene. Her intent was to find some help and get her husband to the hospital. The victim died in his car along the roadway.

 There was an ensuing civil lawsuit that claimed, 1) Premise Liability and 2) Negligent Supervision. The Negligent Supervision came about, as the four suspects in the case were juveniles.

 Some of the facts in this case include:

 1. The part of the business parking lot where the suspects were first observed was very dark. Overhead lighting, where they had gathered, was burnt out and had been for about two years. Both the carryout owner and property owner both knew the light was not working.

2.  At least one witness claimed the suspects had been loitering on the property for a period of time.

3.  Over the three-year time frame prior to the crime, the carryout owner and property owner had knowledge that shootings in the parking lot had occurred. Many strong-armed robberies had taken place. The parking lot was a gathering place for the neighborhood to gather and drink in public. There were many cars stolen out of the parking lot as well as a popular spot for stolen cars to be dumped.

4.  The local police had been called over 900 times, in the three-year period, to respond to the aforementioned crimes along with many other instances such as shoplifting and robbery of the business. Most of the calls had been placed by the business owner or his employee.

5.  The business owner purchased a handgun for self-protection as he had been robbed, at gunpoint, in the parking lot just a few weeks before the murder.

Some other facts include. 1)The local sheriff’s department had a crime reduction program that the defendants never inquired about nor did they participate in; 2) The local police department had the information about crimes on the property (and surrounding area) available to the defendants at no charge; 3) for a price, the defendants could have obtained a report of crimes on their property and the immediate surrounding area.

 In the criminal case, all of the juveniles were tried as adults and found guilty.

 So, my question is, did this business owner and property owner have a duty to provide adequate security?


Curtis Baillie - Security Consulting Strategies, LLC

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