Special Relationship Doctrine

Generally, one who has not created a peril has no duty to affirmatively act so as to prevent harm to third persons. However, the law does impose a legal duty to affirmatively act (to protect someone else from danger or to control the conduct of a third person) if there is a “special relationship” between the defendant and the person in danger or the third person creating the danger. Businesses, such as shopping centers, restaurants and bars, have an affirmative duty to take reasonable steps to secure their premises, as well as adjacent common areas within their control (e.g., parking lots), against reasonably foreseeable criminal acts of third parties” [Delgado v. Trax Bar & Grill (2005); Morris v. De La Torre(2005); Ann M. v. Pacific Plaza Shopping Ctr. (1993)].

Delgado v. Trax Bar & Grill (2005)

“… its special-relationship-based duty included an obligation to take reasonable, relatively simple, and minimally burdensome steps to attempt to avert that danger.”

The nature of the reasonable steps required of the business depends on the circumstances. At the very least, it must undertake reasonable and minimally burdensome measures to assist customers who face danger from imminent or ongoing criminal conduct occurring on the premises or in the presence of the business owner/manager or its employees—e.g., to call police when witnessing an assault (unless doing so might increase the danger or lead to reprisals) (Morris v. De La Torre, supra).

The extent to which a business must take measures to prevent criminal conduct (e.g., hiring security guards) is determined largely under general negligence principles [per Rowland v. Christian (1968)].

To know more about the “special relationship doctrine” and the possible liability of businesses in crimes by third persons against its customers, consult an attorney who is an expert in personal injury.

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