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Posecai v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

From lawbrain.com

Posecai v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 752 So.2d 762 (La. 1999), was a tort law case that examined whether business owners owed a duty to ensure the safety of its patrons.

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Contents

Summary of Case Facts

Posecai, the plaintiff, was returning to her car in a Sam’s Club parking lot when she was robbed at gunpoint. The perpetrator stole $19,000 worth of jewelry from her. The perpetrator was never caught and her jewelry was never found. The plaintiff sued Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (defendant) under a negligence theory for her loss. Testimony indicated that the area near the Sam’s Club store was a high crime area. The plaintiff contended that the defendant owed a duty to protect her and other patrons and was negligent in failing to provide security guards in the parking lot.

Issue

Do business owners owe a duty to protect their patrons from criminal acts committed by third parties?

Holding and Law

Yes, but in only in some situations. Business owners do owe a duty to take reasonable precautions to protect patrons from third parties’ criminal acts, but this duty only arises when the criminal acts in question were foreseeable.

The court decided to adopt a “balancing test to be used in deciding whether a business owes a duty of care to protect its customers from the criminal acts of third parties. The foreseeability of the crime risk on the defendant's property and the gravity of the risk determine the existence and the extent of the defendant's duty. The greater the foreseeability and gravity of the harm, the greater the duty of care that will be imposed on the business. A very high degree of foreseeability is required to give rise to a duty to post security guards, but a lower degree of foreseeability may support a duty to implement lesser security measures such as using surveillance cameras, installing improved lighting or fencing, or trimming shrubbery.”

“The plaintiff has the burden of establishing the duty the defendant owed under the circumstances. The foreseeability and gravity of the harm are to be determined by the facts and circumstances of the case. The most important factor to be considered is the existence, frequency and similarity of prior incidents of crime on the premises, but the location, nature and condition of the property should also be taken into account. It is highly unlikely that a crime risk will be sufficiently foreseeable for the imposition of a duty to provide security guards if there have not been previous instances of crime on the business' premises.”

In this case, the court determined that although prior crimes had taken place, the dissimilarity and infrequency of the crimes did not give rise to a level of foreseeability to impose a duty upon the defendant to provide security patrols in the parking lot or even to implement lesser security measures.

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