Premises liability and violence – is a business responsible?

Florida businesses take on a lot of responsibility when they allow guests to enter the premises. Although the majority of customers are generally mild-mannered and pleasant to deal with, some can be rude and obnoxious. The customers can end up violent, causing fights that result in serious injuries to other patrons. Under the rule of premises liability, can the business be held liable for these injuries?

A recent lawsuit illustrates this case. A female customer was allowed to file a premises liability suit against Denny’s Corporation, which owns the famous restaurant chain, Denny’s. A customer asked employees at Denny’s to ask a table of loud customers to quiet down. The employees did nothing. The woman then went to the table and asked the customers to be quiet. The disruptive customers ended up assaulting her.

The customer claims that Denny’s employees should have foreseen the attack. How is a business supposed to know in advance whether or not violence is apt to take place? The woman was able to show evidence of previous attacks at that same location through police reports. In addition, Denny’s employees were thoroughly trained on workplace violence. They had reviewed various training materials, including PowerPoint presentations. Armed with this information, the employees should have stepped in and prevented the attack, according to the injured woman.

Although business owners are responsible for keeping an area free of hazards such as slips and falls, are they also responsible for criminal acts that occur on the premises? The Second Circuit Court of Appeals says yes. The restaurant owner should have taken measures to prevent the assault. Denny’s denied liability, stating that customer caused the assault to occur, even though previous experience showed that loud speech and profanity often occurred before violence.

Although a business owner cannot control how a customer conducts himself, he can take appropriate measures to keep guests safe. These measures may include additional security guards and proper employee training. Those who are injured at a place of business have a right to seek legal action.

Huffington Post, “When Is a Business Liable for Outsider Violence on Its Premises?” Brad Reid, Sep. 13, 2013