North Carolina law requires that public establishments, such as restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and other establishments open to the public exercise reasonable care to provide a safe environment for their customers and visitors. This law that requires businesses to exercise reasonable care for their customers includes an obligation to provide protection from criminal activity for customers of the business.
The proprietors of the business are obligated to know the crime rate in the area where their businesses are located and to take reasonable steps to protect customers from criminal activities.
If a business chooses to conduct its business at a location which is in a high-crime area, the business must act accordingly and provide necessary security measures in light of the fact that it is operating a business in a high-crime area.
If a business does not exercise reasonable care to protect their customers from harm from criminal activities of third persons, that business is liable for the harm which results.
An example of the application of this law occurred when an innocent person was injured at a North Carolina fast-food restaurant:
A 26-year-old married man with a young child was employed as a warehouse supervisor. On June 4, 2007 at approximately 3:00 a.m., this man went to a fast-food restaurant that was open 24 hours a day. The restaurant was very busy, and he decided not to eat there, but he got permission from an unarmed security guard to use the restroom facilities. As this man was leaving the restaurant walking to his car, he was robbed and shot in the back by members of the Bloods gang.
Unfortunately, the bullet severed the victim's spinal cord and left him permanently paralyzed below the waist. His medical bills totaled $393,000.
The man filed suit in Hoke County and alleged negligence on the part of the restaurant operator, the property owner, and the security company that provided two unarmed security guards.
In a pretrial settlement conference, the defendants offered to settle for a total amount of $100,000. This offer was rejected by the injured victim and the case went to trial in March of 2012.
A security expert called to testify on behalf of the injured man testified at trial that there had been armed robberies, assaults, and shots fired on the premises of the fast-food restaurant during the three-year period leading up to the date the injured party was robbed and shot. Consequently, the expert testified that violent crime was foreseeable.
Evidence was also introduced to show that before the shooting, the police department had requested that the operator of the fast-food restaurant hire off-duty police officers to provide security. Although the restaurant had agreed to hire these officers, they had not started working on the night when the victim was shot.
The police had also requested that the restaurant close down briefly during the heavy rush time, but the restaurant refused and claimed that because of their franchise agreement, it could not close the restaurant.
The restaurant's lawyers argued that the gang which committed this crime would not have been deterred from shooting the victim, and that the crime, therefore, could not have been prevented by security measures requested by the police.
The trial was in its third week when the evidence was finally concluded and the case was submitted to the jury, who went back to the jury room to deliberate.
While the jury was out, the restaurant owners and the owners of the property and the security company agreed to settle the plaintiff's claim by payment to the injured man in the amount of $6,250,000.
North Carolinians are entitled to a safe place to shop and eat when they patronize businesses open to the public. Although businesses do not guarantee the safety of the public, the law does require that businesses use reasonable care to protect the health and safety of those who shop on their premises.
Although the $6.25 million settlement will not cause this unfortunate victim to walk, the money will greatly improve the life of this victim and his family.
Business owners who learn of this case will likely take steps to be sure that their premises are safe from criminal activity. This will make businesses safer. This is one example of how the law makes North Carolina a safer place to live.