Wal-mart Ducks Abduction Case
by Ron Davis
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., has successfully defended against a charge of failure to prevent the abduction of a woman from a South Carolina shopping center.
The shopping center is Port Royal Plaza, on Hilton Head Island, and the abduction occurred in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart store located at the center. The victim of the abduction had driven to the store late one night, shopped briefly, then walked back to her car, where two men accosted her as she unlocked her car door. One of the men put a gun to her head and ordered her into the back seat of her car. Then both men hopped in and drove away with her.
Approximately 30 minutes later and after taking her money and credit cards, the men released the woman and drove away.
The woman sued, alleging that Wal-Mart had a duty to her as its customer to protect her from criminal acts committed in its parking lot. And she cited the recommendations of a security consultant that Wal-Mart needed to provide protection for customers in its parking area of Port Royal Plaza.
In response, Wal-Mart pointed out that a retail operation of its type does not attract criminal activity. In fact, in the two years prior to the woman's abduction, the only crime involving that Wal-Mart store was a larceny, not an assault, car-jacking or kidnapping. Moreover, Wal-Mart added, the abducted woman had admitted that the attack occurred so quickly that neither she nor Wal-Mart personnel could anticipate what was about to happen to her.
Finally, Wal-Mart pointed out, under South Carolina law, "a merchant is not charged with the duty of protecting its customers against criminal acts of third parties when it did not know or have reason to know that such acts were occurring or about to occur."
A South Carolina appellate court, in dismissing the case, explained, "We do not think Wal-Mart had a duty to protect this victim from an attack like the one she suffered. The store simply had no notice of any comparable violent crimes occurring in the two prior years, and no incidents occurred on that particular night to put Wal-Mart on notice of an impending violent crime." (Miletic v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 529 S.E.2d 68 [S.C.App. 2000])
Decision: March 2000
Published: August 2000