If you own a business you may be liable to a customer who was violently injured on your property by third parties if you knew or should have known that such danger existed. A recent article in Huffington Post references two federal cases that discuss the duty owed, if any, in cases claiming injuries from third parties. The rules for premises liability regarding inadequate security claims are basically the same in Massachusetts and the rest of the states.
One of the federal cases dealt with a customer being assaulted in a restaurant. The customer was hurt by customers when she asked them to be quiet. She had first asked the restaurant personnel for help but they didn’t respond. The Court decision allowed a lawsuit to proceed against restaurant. The victim presented evidence of police incident reports of prior violence against customers by third-parties.
She proved by internal records that the business knew about the danger of unruly groups. The Court held that a restaurant must take appropriate measures to protect persons on the premises from foreseeable third-party criminality. This rule generally applies to retail establishments, such as your supermarket, hotel or any other store. The Court stressed there was sufficient evidence of the restaurant’s knowledge of a danger.
The second case dealt with the case of a female employee being killed at work. The estate sued the employer for inadequate security in not protecting her from her former paramour. He happened to be an independent security guard assigned to the same premises.
Although the Court recognized that the employer knew some details about the man being upset, it had no reports by the employee herself. She had told a co-worker to forget it. That was not enough knowledge to impose a duty. The common link in these cases is foreseeability of the danger.
In Massachusetts as well as the other states the more the victim can prove direct knowledge of a specific threat the more likely is a finding of premises liability based on inadequate security. It’s true that a business has no general duty to control the conduct of outsiders. However, it cannot ignore danger that is known or that is flaunting itself in front of the company’s face.
Source: Huffington Post, When Is a Business Liable for Outsider Violence on Its Premises?, Brad Reid, Sept. 13, 2013