Store Couldn’t Foresee Attack
by Ron Davis
The assault of a youngster working at a Massachusetts shopping center lacks the necessary ingredients to make his employer liable. So ruled the courts in a lawsuit in which the youngster’s employer was able to show that the assault was targeted instead of a random act of violence. That showing made all the difference.
The shopping center is Seekonk Mall, located in suburban Providence, RI, and the youngster worked for Stop & Shop Companies, Inc., which operated a store at the facility. He suffered serious injuries from the assault and sued, claiming that the Stop & Shop tenant failed to protect him and was therefore liable.
Details in the case show that his injuries occurred when several youths from the high school he attended attacked him as he was gathering shopping carts in the shopping center parking lot. The victim of the assault had apparently exchanged cross words earlier at school with the sister of one of the attackers. The girl’s brother had subsequently threatened revenge by “getting some guys to maybe break legs or maybe worse.”
That threat seemed only idle talk, however. The youngster who was assaulted did not expect that anyone would come to the shopping center parking lot to attack him. And he never expressed any concern to anyone at Stop & Shop about the possibility of any sort of retaliation.
A Massachusetts court ruled in favor of Stop & Shop “because the attack on the youth was not reasonably foreseeable.” The youth appealed.
A Massachusetts appellate court agreed that the duty of Stop & Shop was limited to taking reasonable precautions against foreseeable risks of harm. Explained the judges, “Unless Stop & Shop knew or had reason to know that its employee faced a risk of criminal attack in the parking lot, it was under no legal duty to protect him.... The attack was not a random attack; he was specifically targeted by his assailants because of a personal grudge of which Shop & Shop knew nothing. Indeed, even though he was informed that the ringleader had threatened to harm him, he did not foresee the attack–much less that it would take place while he was working–and said nothing to alert his employer.” (Pellegrino v. Stop & Shop Companies, Inc., 64 Mass.App.Ct. 1106, 2005 WL 2000946 [Mass.App.Ct.])
Decision: August 2005
Published: August 2005