Is a business liable to protect from assaults by third persons?
Assume that you pull your car into the parking lot outside of a shopping mall. You are doing some late night shopping, so you park your car and make your way across the parking lot. As you turn the corner to enter the mall, you come across a person standing in your way. That person tells you to hand over your wallet and cellphone. Another person steps out from the shadows and walks behind you. You feel trapped. You start to panic. After a few moments, the person behind you strikes you on the head and you fall over. The two muggers then make off with your wallet and cellphone. So who’s legally liable for your mugging?
First, in such a case, the actual attackers are legally liable. They have committed a number of intentional torts which can give rise to civil actions. They have certainly committed an assault and battery against you, as well as theft of your personal property. If you can find these attackers, then you can hold them liable for your injuries and losses.
Second, the actual owners of the shopping center may be legally liable. This is based on the notion of a “special relationship.” Under this notion, businesses, such as shopping centers or restaurants, have a duty to take reasonable steps to secure their premises and the adjacent areas, like parking lots, against reasonably foreseeable criminal acts. This is based on the concept of negligence, where a business owner has a legal duty to act reasonably given the circumstances. Thus, if you can establish that the criminal act was foreseeable, and that the business owner failed to provide a reasonably secure parking lot, then you may be able to hold the owner of the shopping center liable.
This doctrine is not limited to only paying customers, it applies to all “business visitors” which would likely include the entire public.
The key analysis is dependent upon whether it is foreseeable that such a criminal act of a third party would occur. For instance, if there had been prior muggings or attacks in the parking lot, or if the parking lot was very poorly lit, then these factors would help make a case that the mugging was foreseeable.
If you have been injured as the result of a property owner’s negligence, please consult with the premises liability attorneys at Martinez & Schill LLP to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case. We work with clients throughout Southern California. There is no cost to you unless and until we win your case. Call 619-512-5995 for our San Diego Office or 951-200-4630 for Riverside.