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Mugging Not Centerís Fault
by Ron Davis
Lack of evidence of criminal activity at a New Jersey shopping center has helped its owners avoid blame for not preventing a mugging attempt in the centerís parking lot.
The shopping center is Jackson Plaza, located in Ocean County, and the mugging attempt occurred after a female patron had shopped at a supermarket tenant and returned to her car.
She said after she loaded her purchases and was sitting in the driverís seat, a man opened her car door and grabbed her by the neck. She added that he told her to ďshut up or Iím going to kill you.Ē
She said she struggled to escape, called for help and honked her carís horn, attracting the attention of a passerby. The attacker then fled in his nearby car. The woman noted his license-plate number, and police later arrested him. He eventually pleaded guilty to attempted kidnapping.
The woman suffered only cuts and scratches from the ordeal. But she later sued the owners of Jackson Plaza as well as the supermarket where she had shopped just prior to the assault, claiming that they were negligent.
At trial, a security expert noted that during a previous 15-month period, five crimes occurred in the Jackson Plaza parking lot. There were no reports of loitering or criminal behavior in that lot. Surveillance cameras had, however, spotted the mugger at various locations at the shopping center for nearly two hours prior to the mugging attempt. The expert therefore concluded that the shopping center and the supermarket tenant should have done more to protect the victim of the muggerís attack.
The expert also explained that the shopping centerís owners should have conducted a risk assessment of the property. He explained that such an assessment can be used to develop a sound program to deter criminal activity. He added that owners of shopping centers who do not obtain one ďare left to guess what they ought to doĒ to address the risks inherent in their business.
At trial, a jury awarded the injured woman $275,000 and allocated 80 percent fault to the mugger and 20 percent to the shopping centerís owners and the centerís management company.
The centerís owners appealed.
A New Jersey appellate court reversed the juryís award. Explained the court, ďThe evidence was inadequate to establish a totality of circumstances under which the centerís owners or managers should have done more to protect their customers in the parking lot or in this case the victimís attack by the mugger, who had been on the premises for about two hours and, by the evidence presented, had done nothing to raise suspicion about his presence.Ē (Pisciotti v. P.F. Pasbjerg Development Co., 2009 WL 2045200 [N.J. Super.A.D.])
Decision: September 2009
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