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Case Just a Stab in the Dark
by Ron Davis

The victim of a stabbing that occurred at a nightclub operated by a Maryland shopping center tenant has failed in his bid to pin blame on the center’s owners.

The shopping center is Dodge Plaza in Landover, and the stabbing apparently resulted from a quarrel over a female patron of the nightclub. The victim suffered multiple stab wounds requiring extensive medical treatment. Afterwards, he sued the nightclub owner as well as the owners of the shopping center in which the nightclub was located. (The nightclub has since closed.)

The victim pointed out that several incidents of violence had occurred at the nightclub prior to his stabbing. He further noted that despite a history of violent acts at the nightclub, there were no uniformed police officers on duty there on the night of the stabbing. Therefore, he added, the shopping center owners were negligent by not exercising reasonable care for visitors to their property.

In response, the owners of Dodge Plaza pointed out that the lease with the nightclub owner had specifically charged him with the responsibility of security. Moreover, they added, police reports showed that during a 26-month period only two instances of violence occurred at the nightclub prior to the stabbing incident, and neither of those two instances involved a weapon. The owners of Dodge Plaza therefore argued that they were not on notice and that they owed no duty under law to protect patrons of the nightclub against random assaults by other patrons.

A Maryland appellate court, in ruling in favor of the shopping center owners, explained, “The person who attacked the victim in this instance did not present a continuing, identified, dangerous condition on the nightclub’s premises. Nor are the two prior instances [of violence] legally sufficient, in and of themselves, to have put Dodge Plaza on constructive notice of a danger to patrons of criminal injury within the nightclub beyond that normally encountered in urban society. (Smith v. Dodge Plaza, 811 A.2d 881 [Md.App. 2002])

Decision: December 2002
Published: February 2002



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