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An Appealing Decision
by Ron Davis

Wal-Mart Stores has won a reversal of an earlier court ruling in favor of a customer who was robbed at gunpoint in a Sam's Wholesale Club parking lot.

In that reversal, the Louisiana Supreme Court decided that, in fact, neither Wal-Mart nor its Sam's subsidiary was responsible for the protection of the customer. A Louisiana appellate court had ruled that Wal-Mart had breached its duty of exercising reasonable care for the customer's safety and its duty of not exposing her to the unreasonable risk of being robbed at gunpoint on its property.

The Sam's store and the Kenner shopping center where the store is located are adjacent to a high-crime area of the city and had a security guard on duty at the time the customer was robbed. Despite the presence of the guard, however, the robber had lain under the customer's car undetected until she returned from shopping at the Sam's store. From that position, he was able to grasp the customer's ankle and hold on to her while scrambling to his feet. He then pointed a gun at her and demanded that she hand over some expensive pieces of jewelry she was wearing. He escaped with the jewelry and has not been apprehended.

Since the robbery, the woman has complained of nightmares and insomnia, and she refuses to go out by herself a night. But she hasn't missed any days of work and has not sought psychological counseling.

In her lawsuit against Wal-Mart, she claimed that the company had failed to provide protection for her against being robbed at gunpoint on its property. And the Louisiana appellate court agreed, awarding her $18,968 for her lost jewelry and $10,000 for "mental anguish" she allegedly suffered.

In reversing the appellate court, the Louisiana Supreme Court explained, "Sam's did not possess the requisite degree of foreseeability for the imposition of a duty to provide security patrols in its parking lot. Nor was the degree of foreseeability sufficient to support a duty to implement lesser security measures. Accordingly, Sam's owed no duty to protect this customer from the criminal acts of third parties under the facts and circumstances of this case. (Posecai v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 751 So.2d 762 [La. 1999])

Decision: December 1999
Published: April 2000



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