Premises Liability Lawyer Case: Assault

A premises liability lawyer handles many different types of cases. Here is an interesting one.

Pamela Serure was assaulted by Geneva Sheehan. Serure was shopping in one of T.J. Maxx’s stores.

PREMISES LIABILITY LAWYER SUES T.J. MAXX

Serure hired a premises liability lawyer. The premises liability lawyer sued the store. The premises liability lawyer claimed that T.J. Maxx was careless in failing to take measures to control Sheehan.
Premises liability lawyer
Serure was in line at the cashier counter of T.J. Maxx’s Eatontown store. She noticed Sheehan, standing right behind her cart. Sheehan failed to follow the store’s practice of waiting in line for the next open register. T.J. Maxx’s manager was checking Serure ‘s order.  The manager instructed Sheehan to go back in the line until another register freed up. Sheehan refused. She inched closer to Serure. Sheehan told her, “Please back up. I will be done shortly.” Sheehan replied, “F____ You!”

Serure turned back toward the manager. She tried not to engage with Sheehan further. The manager seemed to ignore the entire interaction. Sheehan continued to mumble expletives. Sheehan did not step back to the customer waiting area as requested. Instead, she took out her cell phone and struck

The manager seemed to ignore the entire interaction. Sheehan continued to mumble expletives. Sheehan did not step back to the customer waiting area as requested. Instead, she took out her cell phone and struck Serure from behind.

A loss prevention officer was seated behind the checkout counter. Serure identified him as the one “who ultimately broke up the fight.” Serure claimed the officer never left the counter while Sheehan was cursing at her.

The security video shows a brief conversation between Serure and Sheehan at the checkout counter.  Then Serure turns away to face the registers. T.J. Maxx’s manager was on the telephone at this time, with her back partially toward Serure. Sheehan suddenly steps forward, raises her cell phone, strikes Serure on the head, and pulls her hair. There was no sound on the video.

T.J. MAXX TRIES TO DISMISS CASE

T.J. Maxx’s lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit without a trial. The judge ruled that there was no indication of any type of danger immediately before the assault. The judge further ruled that the premises liability lawyer should have hired an expert witness. Why? “Because how security is conducted in a store… is not something the average person knows about.”

The judge therefore granted T.J. Maxx’s motion, and dismissed Serure’s case. Serure’s premises liability lawyer appealed.

On appeal, Serure’s premises liability lawyer argued that  Sheehan’s loud language should have placed T.J. Maxx’s employees on notice to intervene and control her. This would have prevented the physical assault. The premises liability lawyer also argued that the judge incorrectly concluded that T.J. Maxx’s responsibility must be established by expert testimony.

The appeals judges noted that a store owner has a duty to maintain the safe condition of its property, for the protection of persons who lawfully enter. However, business owners are not generally responsible for the criminal acts of others.

STORES SOMETIMES LIABLE FOR CRIMES ON PREMISES

But there is an exception. A business is responsible if it knows, or has reason to know, that criminal acts are about to occur. (Indeed, the owner may even be responsible if, from past experience, there is a likelihood of criminal activity.)

But the appellate judges still rejected the argument of the premises liability lawyer. Instead, they ruled that no reasonable person could conclude that a loud and serious verbal altercation should have put the cashier and the loss prevention officer on notice to try to break up the altercation.

The judges emphasized that no proof was submitted suggesting any previous pattern of criminal conduct in the store. The brief verbal interaction, even if loud and laced with vulgarities, did not, the judges claimed, hint that Sheehan might use violence.

After watching the video, the judges claimed that even  Serure was not alarmed following the verbal exchange. Thus, Sheehan’s attack was “unanticipated.”

The appeals court also addressed the trial judge’s comments about the need for expert testimony. They ruled that the judge’s  remarks were correct.

BUT THIS TIME STORE WINS ON APPEAL

Accordingly, the appeals court upheld the dismissal of Serure’s lawsuit.

I disagree with this ruling. A jury should have decided the case. For one thing, the judges could not know for sure, from a silent video, whether Serure was alarmed. Or whether intervention on the part of store personnel was reasonably required. I also don’t think that you should need an “expert” to testify on such issues. Anyone with common sense would know.

All that said, a premises liability lawyer generally should retain an expert if there is any reasonable doubt as to how a judge will rule. It is thus very important for victims to retain an experienced premises liability lawyer. One who knows how to properly handle a case such as Ms. Serure’s.

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