Imagine leaving the grocery store to head home and, as you turn onto your street, another car rear-ends you. When you get out of your car, you’re attacked by robbers armed with pepper spray and guns.
What if you found out later that three similar attacks had occurred over the previous week, but the involved store owners failed to provide any warning or adequate security?
Sadly, a local woman did go through this traumatic experience earlier this month after leaving a local Publix grocery store. At least four similar incidents occurred within days of each other at several different shopping centers in one Broward County city, and residents are calling for the involved businesses to provide better security.
A Dangerous Pattern in Plantation
All four robberies were reported at or near several different Publix stores in Plantation. Police believe the same people are responsible for the crimes, since similar vehicle descriptions were provided at each armed robbery scene.
In the first robbery, a woman was moving groceries to her car at the Publix store on South University Drive when a car pulled behind her vehicle, a man exited, pepper sprayed the woman, and took her handbag. Later that night, the woman’s car was stolen from the driveway of her house.
The second robbery occurred the same evening at another Publix store on Sunrise Boulevard. In that case, a man and woman approached a female victim, pepper sprayed her and took her purse.
In the third incident, a man and two women reportedly robbed two women leaving an Outback Steakhouse. Police reported that the assailants struck one victim in her thigh and repeatedly punched the other victim in the head. A cell phone was reported stolen in the robbery.
The incident in which the female victim was rear-ended and pepper-sprayed occurred on a subsequent night after the female victim left a Publix near West Broward Boulevard and Northwest 69th Avenue.
Stores’ Duty of Care to Shoppers
As more of these attacks occur, the more likely it is that Publix and the shopping centers in which they’re housed may be opening themselves up to legal claims. Although Publix issued a statement after the incidents noting its commitment to the safety of its customers and employees, the company so far has failed to provide warnings to customers on its website.
Legal claims for premises liability often center on negligent actions by a property owner that lead to injuries. Courts have ruled that liability can extend to crime victims, who may be able to recover compensation for injuries caused by criminal acts that occurred on business property.
The ability of a plaintiff to recover damages depends on several factors. The first is the status of the plaintiff at the time of the injury, which helps determine the duty of care for which the property owner is responsible. If an individual is trespassing, for example, the owner of the property owes very little — if any — duty of care.
Invitees are owed the highest duty of care by property owners, the courts have ruled. Invitees usually are individuals that a property owner invites to their property, often for the economic gain of the owner — for instance, customers in a store.
The duty of care to invitees typically includes warning them of dangers of which the owner but not the invitee is aware, maintaining the property in a safe manner, and inspecting the property for possible unknown sources of danger. Some courts have ruled that property owners must guard invitees against foreseeable crimes committed by third parties.
Were These Armed Robberies ‘Foreseeable?’
Courts across Florida have agreed that invitees are entitled to reasonable protection against crimes that are foreseeable. However, jurisdictions differ on the meaning of “foreseeable,” with one or more of the following variables in play:
- Similarities among previous crimes.
- Nearness in time of the previous crimes.
- Nearness in geographic location of the previous crimes.
Improved Security in Shopping Areas Is Critical
In the recent incidents in Plantation, we believe that Publix and the shopping center owners have a clear duty to take measures to protect their invitees — their customers. Four very similar cases of robbery have occurred in a small geographic area, at around the same times and committed by the same presumed suspects.
At this point, it’s clear that a pattern exists and that the duty of care by the shopping centers and Publix includes warning customers of these incidents. The stores and shopping centers also must increase the security measures they are providing — including patrols, lighting, cameras and other measures — to ensure that customers can load their purchases into their cars and exit the premises safely.
Have You Been a Victim of Crime?
If you’ve been the victim of a crime that occurred on the property of another party, you may be entitled to compensation if the property owner did not do enough to mitigate dangers and warn you. Compensation can include payment of medical bills, emotional distress, lost income, and pain and suffering. For a free consultation with an experienced premises liability attorney, please contact Kaire & Heffernan, LLC.