There is no general duty for a business to protect customers from third party attackers. If someone attacks you outside of a store, for example, the store is usually not responsible for the injuries or damages that occur because of that attack. The Third Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana explained this concept in a case that originated in Alexandria City Court.
In June 2009, a woman and her mother were attending a bingo fundraising event for the local school football team. They arrived a little late and were attacked outside of the building where the bingo was being held. The assailant took the women’s purses and attempted to get away in the women’s car. The car headed toward a group of pedestrians at high speed in its getaway attempt.
Fortunately, the security guard rushed outside when he heard what was going on. He shot at the wheels of the vehicle, forcing it to stop before it reached the group of pedestrians. He arrested the attacker and sent him to jail. One of the women, however, injured her leg when the attacker struck it with the car as he was trying to escape.
The women sued the school group that was holding the fundraiser. They thought that the school had a duty to protect the people that are coming into the event. They thought that the security guard should have been outside, instead of inside watching television (as one witness stated he was doing prior to coming outside), and could have prevented the entire episode. The security guard was outside patrolling the area prior to the event, but when the event started, he headed inside.
Due to this series of events, the court questioned whether the charity fundraiser had any duty to protect the women who were coming to the event. In order to be liable for personal injury damages, the plaintiff has to prove that there was a duty to protect them, the defendant failed that duty, the conduct was a cause-in-fact of Plaintiff’s injuries, the defendant’s conduct was a legal cause of the injuries, and there were actual damages. The court determined that the plaintiffs could not even get past the first requirement because there was no duty to protect these women.
Because businesses and other similar entities have very little control of what third parties do, Louisiana does not require them to protect their customers and consumers from third party attacks. However, businesses are required to provide a reasonably safe place. Occasionally, businesses, like this charity event, determine that they want to voluntarily assume some protection duties. Hiring a security guard assumes that the charity event was taking on some protection duties. When the security guard is negligent, then, the business or entity can be liable for his or her negligence.
For example, if the security guard in this case would have shot into the crowd of people in order to get them to move or to scare the attacker, then he would likely be liable for any injuries that resulted from it. Generally, if the guard makes the situation worse by his actions, then the business may be liable.
The women attempted to claim that the security guard was negligent because he was not outside at the time of the attack, and a witness saw him watching television. However, the court determined that the security officer was inside because the event was already starting, so that was a perfectly reasonable place for him to be. Since he came outside quickly when he heard that there was an attack and stopped the attacker, the court determined that he was not negligent and had performed his duties admirably.
A business may also have a duty to protect their customers when there have been crimes in that area previously. The test is based on foreseeability. If, for example, someone is attacked leaving the store every day at noon, the business would have a hard time arguing that they had no duty to protect the customer because the attack was very predictable.
In the case of this charity event, the court does not mention any previous attacks at the bingo location. As such, the charity likely had no reason to think that someone would be attacked in the parking lot. The fact that they hired a security guard was actually more protection than they were legally obligated to assume.
It is important to know who has a duty before attempting to sue for personal injuries. The Berniard Law Firm specializes in personal injuries and would be happy to discuss your legal options if you have been injured. Call us today.