Liability for Assaults & Shootings in Public Places (Malls, Shopping Centers & Stores)
Imagine this scenario: a shopper at a mall is walking to the parking lot and is violently robbed. The individual suffers a serious injury and is disabled for the rest of her life. The person who perpetrated the crime had been targeting shoppers for several months prior, and in particular, the criminal had been targeting shoppers who’d parked their cars in this particular part of the mall parking lot because of poor lighting and the lack of a security camera.
On these facts alone, a Pennsylvania court probably wouldn’t find the mall (and/or the parking lot security company) liable for the crime, unless there is sufficient evidence that the mall operator knew about the risk. But what if it turns out that in the year prior, the police had been called approximately 1-2 times per week for reports of theft, robbery or related offenses? It also turns out that prior to the incident, mall security had been notified of the lack of lighting in the particular area. Would the mall or security company be liable then? Probably. Here’s why.
Under Pennsylvania injury law, businesses open to the public must take reasonable precautions for “invitees,” or people invited to a business for the benefit of the business. This applies to shopping malls, shopping centers and various stores, such as:
- grocery stores,
- department stores, and
Of course, businesses aren’t required to prevent any and all accidents from happening. Rather, businesses are required to provide a reasonably safe shopping/dining experience. This duty extends to parking areas, like parking garages and parking lots. Reasonably safe usually means free of serious hazards, like slip, trip and fall hazards. It also means reasonably safe from foreseeable criminal activity.
The key is foreseeability or whether the business should have understood the risk to patrons and therefore taken appropriate corrective action. In the example above, there are two factors which show that the mall and security company could have foreseen the criminal activity: 1. the dozens of police calls in the year prior, and 2. reports about the lack of sufficient lighting in that particular area of the mall parking lot.
It is important to note that the above analysis applies not only to shoppers/customers, but also to employees of businesses in the mall. This was made clear in a recent court decision by the Pennsylvania Superior Court. For a discussion of that case, read: Pennsylvania Mall Employees Injured Due to Criminal Activity – A Discussion of a Sept. 2014 PA Court Case.
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If you were injured due to criminal activity in a public place, please contact our office. Our lawyers specialize in crime victim’s cases. Firm founder and partner Brian Kent is a former prosecutor who now handles civil crime victim’s matters. Click To Call
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