Tuesday, June 12, 2001
Store’s Aid to Beating Victim Did Not Enhance Its Duty to Protect Customers, Appeals Court Rules
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
A man who was wounded while standing in a grocery store by shots fired from outside cannot press his lawsuit against the store owner and employees, because the defendants had no duty to protect him from the violent acts of others, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The fact that an employee attempted to stop a mugging outside by pulling the victim into the store did not enhance the foreseeability of injury to his customers, Justice Patricia Sepulveda wrote for Div. Four, and thus did not impose a duty.
The ruling comes just days after a landmark ruling by the state Supreme Court in a Bellflower case that turned aside a courier’s suit against the owners of an apartment complex where she was assaulted, because she could not prove that poor security actually caused the attack.
But the First District ruling, which was certified for publication Friday, was filed before the high court decision and made no reference to it.
In a case stemming from a shooting in San Francisco’s notorious Tenderloin district, the court ruled that the shooting was not foreseeable, and that the store owner thus lacked a duty of care with respect to violence outside the store by third parties, since nothing like that had ever happened there before.
Plaintiff Jamal Hassoon argued that the employee, identified only as Natour, was reckless when he went to the aid of the person being beaten on the street, and that the recklessness led to the shooting of Hassoon and others inside.
Hassoon sued Natour as well as the store owner.
The San Francisco Superior Court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and the Court of Appeal said the ruling was proper.
“However foolhardy it may appear in retrospect, we believe the community at large would regard Natour’s conduct as a wholly understandable reaction to stressful and dangerous circumstances,” Sepulveda wrote. “In light of that perception, we are reluctant in the calm of judicial hindsight to conclude defendant Natour ‘should have known better,’ and thus was under a legal obligation to conduct himself as a reasonable person, not confronted with these exigencies, might have done, on pain of possibly being required to respond in damages for the consequences of his reaction.”
In a highly stressful situation such as what occurred when both Hassoon and Natour watched the beating from inside the store, the justice said, there was nothing in the conduct of either man that provides a basis for imposing a legal obligation on one to compensate the other.
“Both Natour and plaintiff acted in a context that effectively precluded a rational calculation of the probability of harm resulting from the reaction of either,” Sepulveda said. “In a case presenting what can be regarded as the background risks that must be borne as a part of group living, we think the better rule is to absolve Natour of a duty of care and consequent liability for plaintiff’s injuries.”
The case is Hassoon v. Shamieh, 01 S.O.S. 2796.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company