A recent appeals case involving a store employee who was shot when he challenged a potential car thief in a parking lot illustrates the challenges that each fact pattern can represent. The opinion involving a Georgia premises liability claim stemming from a tragic murder at the grocery store.
According to the court’s opinion, a grocery store employee drove to work in his truck and parked it in the store’s parking lot. At work, he was assigned to clean debris from the store’s property. While he was working, the employee saw a car park next to the employee’s work truck. An individual exited the vehicle and approached the employee’s truck suspiciously. The employee and his co-worker ran towards the truck and approached the car. When the employee approached the window, a man shot and killed him.
The employee’s surviving spouse (the plaintiff) filed a lawsuit against the grocery store, claiming the store’s negligence was responsible for her husband’s death. Specifically, the plaintiff’s claim alleged that the store was negligent in failing to maintain, inspect, and manage the premises. Further, she contended that the grocery store was negligent in failing to warn and remediate a long history of crime at the property.
The defense argued that the employee knew there was a potential crime occurring and chose to run to the danger. In response, the defendant moved for dismissal, arguing that the victim voluntarily chose to engage in combat and join an affray. Further, it claimed that the victim failed to exercise ordinary care when he left a safe situation and approached the unknown man. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred because the victim did not voluntarily join an affray, and that the employee’s reasonableness was a jury question that was not appropriately resolved in a motion for summary judgment.
Georgia’s negligence law explains that plaintiffs must meet the four elements of a tort action to succeed on a claim. Additionally, plaintiffs must be able to overcome any contributory negligence defenses a defendant presents. Questions regarding a plaintiff’s exercise of ordinary care may be summarily adjudicated in cases where their knowledge of the risk is clear and palpable. In situations where an assessment of ordinary care is not “plain, palpable, or undisputed,” the question must go to a jury.
Here, the defendant’s contributory negligence defense cited the plaintiff’s failure to use ordinary care for his own safety and his failure to use ordinary care to avoid consequences of another’s actions. The court reasoned that there was no evidence that the victim saw the shooter with a weapon or that he knowingly injecting himself into an ongoing fight or violent situation. Although the victim ran to his vehicle, the court noted that there was no evidence the employee had clear or palpable knowledge of the risk of being shot. Additionally, nothing in the record indicated that the victim had any prior interaction with the shooter that would give him a reason to suspect that the man might be violent. Lastly, although the victim left a safe place to run towards his truck, the court noted that there was no evidence suggesting that he voluntarily placed himself in imminent danger.
The court seems to be saying that if you see a weapon and you go towards it, you are placing yourself and risk and they would throw the case out on summary judgment.
The court conceded that there might be a risk in approaching an intruder in one’s car; however, the reasonableness of this conduct varies on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, because a jury could conclude that the victim’s actions were reasonable, the defendant’s summary judgment motion should have been denied.
Have You Suffered Injuries on Another’s Property?
If you or someone you know has suffered injuries while on the property of another person or business, contact Christopher Simon, Attorney at Law. The attorneys at our law firm have a successful history representing injury victims in their Georgia premises liability, car accident, wrongful death, and truck accident claims. We provide our clients with dedicated and personalized attention, ensuring that they receive the representation they deserve. Through our representation, clients have recovered substantial amounts of compensation for their losses. Contact our office at 404-259-7635, to schedule a free initial consultation with an attorney at our firm.