In 2012, James Holmes walked into a crowded movie theater and opened fire, randomly shooting patrons at a Batman premiere in Colorado. Many people were shot or wounded in the melee that resulted. In 2014, a Texas judge allowed personal injury and wrongful death suits against the theater to proceed by refusing to grant the theater’s motion to dismiss for such claims. Previously, such suits were dismissed on the notion that the theater could not possibly have predicted such a horrible act would occur on their premises. However, the issue of the cinema having lax security was one issue that survived the motions to dismiss. The complaint alleges that the theater failed to provide security for the event even though many of its theaters around the country exercise that option. As a result, about thirty people will be able to move forward with civil suits relating to the event.
Premises liability in the face of violent acts has continued to evolve in the wake of such incidents like mass shootings. There are several theories that can move forward depending on the circumstances of the case. One such theory is whether or not the resulting violence on the premises of the business owner was foreseeable. In one instance, a person was injured while attempting to use an ATM. Although courts have not held banks strictly liable for these incidents, banks must exercise reasonable care to ensure the safety of their customers.
Another test is whether or not a defendant business owner is aware of specific harm that can occur. As you can see, there is no way for the theater to have known a mass random shooting would occur but banks may reasonably foresee that criminals will hang around ATMs looking to rob customers. This would depend on the next part of the test, known as the prior incidents test. If a business has had a similar incident occur, then a business may be considered to be on notice that a future event is possible. However, in one such ATM robbery case, an Alabama judge refused to find a bank liable for an injured customer despite the fact that there had been two previous robberies, one ten days before the alleged incident.
The final part of the analysis is to consider the totality of circumstances surrounding the case. This means a court can take into account the facts and circumstances surrounding the case into account to see if foreseeability is reasonable for the business.
This article is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Do not rely on the above information as all cases are different and different laws apply to different cases. Consult an attorney in your area for further guidance.