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Off-Premise Crimes Don’t Count
by Ron Davis

Proof of a low number of crimes committed on the premises of a Tennessee retailer means the victim of a robbery there won’t be getting any sort of settlement.

The retailer is a Wal-Mart store located in the northeast Tennessee town of Tazewell, and the victim was robbed at knifepoint in the parking lot there during the evening hours.

In her lawsuit against Wal-Mart, the victim claimed that Wal-Mart was negligent in failing to provide adequate parking-lot lighting and security for its patrons. Wal-Mart responded that the robbery was not foreseeable because no other robberies had occurred in that store’s parking lot in the previous two years. In fact, Wal-Mart added, only two simple assaults took place in the parking lot during that two-year period, with only eight other minor criminal acts occurring there during that time.

The victim conceded that there were no prior robberies in the Wal-Mart parking lot during those two years. But she pointed out that within that time, police records show that 664 calls were made to investigate potential crime problems in the immediate vicinity of the Wal-Mart store.

The victim also noted that a trailer park is also located in that area surrounding the Wal-Mart store, and she indicated that criminal activities that occur at that park spill over onto the Wal-Mart property.

At trial, however, a Tennessee court rejected the woman’s argument that the trailer park she described is immediately adjacent to the Wal-Mart. Instead, the judge said, the park is not visible from the Wal-Mart parking lot. In fact, the judge concluded, that trailer park is actually “some distance” from the Wal-Mart property and is a “distinctly different operation” when compared with a retail facility.

The woman appealed, insisting that the robbery she experienced was foreseeable and therefore preventable.

A Tennessee appellate court agreed with the lower-court findings. Explained the judges, “The only relevant evidence regarding foreseeability is the criminal activity in the Wal-Mart parking lot itself. That evidence is undisputed that there were two simple assaults, three reports of theft from a vehicle, one report of indecent exposure, one report of theft inside the store, and one report of vandalism. Based upon precedent, this evidence does not rise to the level of prior criminal activity necessary to establish that this incident involving this robbery victim was foreseeable.” (Keaton v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., Slip Copy, 2009 WL 17853 [Tenn.Ct.App.]

Decision: January 2009
Published: January 2009



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