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Rape Unforeseeable
by Ron Davis

A woman who was raped at a California shopping center has failed in her bid to prove the center’s owners and personnel there were remiss in protecting her.

The shopping center is South Coast Plaza, located just south of Los Angeles, and the rape occurred in a restroom used by customers of a McDonald’s restaurant tenant of the center. The victim had gone to the restaurant with her son, and while waiting on a friend just outside the restaurant entrance, she saw a man wearing a wig and acting oddly. She said the man began staring at her, wiggling his eyebrows, and taking his eyeglasses on and off “in a suggestive manner.” She said that while staring at her, he made other sexually suggestive facial expressions.

By the time her friend arrived, however, the man was gone. But she said while in line at the restaurant, she spotted him again just outside the front door. And again, he began staring at her and licking his lips, she said.

A shopping center security guard was in line behind her and she said she told him of the conduct of the man who was harassing her. She said the security guard responded by saying, “Okay, okay.” She then tried to point out the man outside the restaurant, but he had apparently once again departed. She said she then told the McDonald’s cashier about the strangely behaving man, then sat down with her son and her friend.

A few minutes later, she decided to visit the restroom, and once inside, the man who had been watching her pushed his way into the stall she was using, threatened her, then raped her.

She sued the owners of the shopping center and McDonald’s Corp., charging them with negligence in failing to respond to her reports of the suspicious man prior to the assault.

A county court ruled in favor of the shopping center’s owners and McDonald’s, explaining that the evidence in the case did not show negligence. The woman appealed.

A California appellate court agreed that the woman had failed to prove negligence. Stated the judges, “Whatever the assault victim may have intuitively felt about the man’s appearance and intentions, or been convinced of in the cold light of hindsight, are not objective facts. Neither the security guard nor the McDonald’s cashier could be expected to adopt her fearful conclusions about a man they had not even seen. Viewed objectively, the fact that he wore a wig suggests nothing sinister. Some people, including men, wear them for reasons unrelated to criminal conduct. And the man’s behavior, while possibly intended to be disturbing, might also seem merely juvenile, depending upon other circumstances.” (Roe v. McDonald’s Corp., 29 Cal.Rptr. 3d 127])

Decision: May 2005
Published: June 2005



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