Holiday Shopping Crimes and Premises Liability

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With Halloween a memory and Thanksgiving coming at us fast, the holiday shopping season will be here before you can blink. Every year the process becomes ever-more hectic, the crowds get bigger and bigger, and people seem to shell out more cash for more expensive stuff. But with this somewhat chaotic season comes some dangers that people tend to overlook, and if those dangers are overlooked by the establishments people are shopping at, they can be on the hook for liability should things go wrong.

While shopping this holiday season, malls and shopping centers that fail to take measures to ensure a patron’s safety may be responsible for injuries inflicted on them by third-parties.  Every year, shoppers become the victims of assault, robbery, physical abuse, sexual abuse, kidnapping, trampling, carjacking and other violent crime.  Owners of commercial property, who invite the public onto their property for the purposes of gain or profit, have an obligation to ensure the safety of those who chose to accept the invitation.

Every premises liability claim against a landowner, whether it be the result of a slip and fall on a puddle, or an assault by a third party on the premises, requires a showing that the landowner had notice of the dangerous or unsafe condition, that the dangerous condition was not repaired, eliminated, or warned of, and that failure to fix or warn of the dangerous condition was the cause of the injuries.  Specifically, in a case in which a patron at a store or shopping mall is assaulted, or is otherwise the victim of a violent crime, a showing that the landowner knew, or had reason to know, that the safety of its patrons were likely to be in danger, is required.

A mere showing of prior criminal conduct at a shopping mall is insufficient for the owners to be on notice of a risk of harm to its patron’s.  The mall or shopping center must have notice of prior incidences of criminal behavior by third parties that put the safety of its patrons at risk.  In one instance, a wife and husband, Mr. and Mrs. Skouras, exited a shopping mall with packages they had purchased inside.  While loading their car, a vehicle pulled alongside.  The driver reached out of the window and grabbed the strap of Mrs. Skouras’ purse.  The car began to drive away, dragging Mrs. Skouras to the ground, and Mr. Skouras quickly fell to the ground to aid her.  After unsuccessfully attempting to exit the mall parking lot, the driver returned to the scene of the crime and, after attempting again attempting to exit the parking lot, ran over Mr. Skouras, eventually causing his death.  The New York Appeals Court dismissed the lawsuit brought against the mall, claiming the mall failed to take security measure to protect Mr. and Mrs. Skouras, but finding that the criminal acts were not reasonably foreseeable.  The Court’s decision in this case was instructed by the fact that previous criminal acts at the subject mall were either non-violent or dissimilar.  Evidence showed multiple instances of non-violent theft at the mall, and an assault outside the parking area of the mall.

However, liability of an owner for one’s injuries exists where that landowner can reasonably foresee the criminal act perpetrated upon you.  A landowner can “reasonably foresee” a criminal act where it can be demonstrated that similar violent crimes have been perpetrated in the past.  The greater the similarity of previous situations to the crime at issue, the greater the likelihood that the mall or shopping center could have foreseen the crime.  A mall or shopping center that could reasonably foresee a crime perpetrated against its patrons, has an obligations to take precautions to protect their patrons. 

An example of the requirement of similar previous instances is demonstrated by the story of a young boy who brought a lawsuit to recover for injuries suffered when he was assaulted outside of a shopping mall.  In this instance, there was a history of “gangs of youths” loitering and engaging in fighting outside of the video arcade in the mall.  In this instance, the young man was attacked in similar fashion, outside of the arcade.  Finding reason to believe that the mall owner could reasonably foresee the assault on the young man, New York’s Appellate Court rejected the mall owner’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit. 

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If it can be shown that the injuries suffered from a violent crime were reasonably foreseeable, the owner of a mall or shopping center is responsible to compensate you for your injuries, provided they could have prevented the crime by simply taking minimal precautions.  These include things like hiring sufficient security, employing security cameras, providing adequate exterior lighting, and placing emergency phones or call boxes in accessible areas. 

The lack of basic safety measures may be grounds for claims of negligence against the owner of a shopping mall or store. If you or your loved one was injured in an incident in which security seemed faulty in New York, make sure you consult with personal injury attorney that specializes in premises liability.

So good luck with your shopping this year, and all of us at RGLZ hope all of you have a great holiday season!