What is Your Liability as a Business Owner for Actions of Third Parties?

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In 2009, Minneapolis saw a drop in almost all crimes. However, the beginning of 2010 saw a rash of murders, including a triple murder at the Seward Market, where on January 6, the store owner and two customers were killed. This crime has left many business owners worried about what their legal liability could be for criminal activities on their premises.  

In a case like the Seward Market, a business owner in Minnesota would have no liability to customers who were injured or even killed at the store. Absent what is called a “special relationship,” courts are reluctant to impose legal liability upon a store owner for the criminal acts of a third party. Courts in the states have repeatedly stated that when individuals have been assaulted in parking lots next to businesses and in apartment buildings where they were tenants, the business owners are not legally liable for any injuries suffered. This can be a source of relief for business owners who might otherwise worry about their legal liability in today’s world of increasing crime.

But in some businesses, this “special relationship” may exist. When an individual entrusts her safety to another and is subsequently injured, the business owner may be liable for criminal activity. A daycare center is a good example. Parents entrust their child’s safety and wellbeing to the daycare owner and its employees. If a child is injured by the actions of an employee or another person, the daycare owner will likely be held liable.

In other cases, a business owner has been held legally liable for injuries suffered by a customer when the business owner provides security and does so negligently, such as a landlord who equips an apartment building with a security door and an intercom but does not repair them, resulting in a tenant being assaulted. Here, the landlord could be liable, even though he likely would not be if he had not provided the security measures in the first place. This can leave a business owner in a bind if a court were to decide that what was offered wasn’t sufficient or was provided negligently. Is it better to do nothing?

 Finally, a business owner can sometimes be liable for its employee’s actions when that employee has a “unique opportunity to commit a crime.”  Example can be a cleaning company that sends an employee to a private home without doing a criminal background check and that person then breaks into a client’s home, or a bouncer with a history of assault who is hired by a bar and then beats up a customer, but the business owner didn’t do a background check before hiring. Running a background check on potential candidates is a good idea to protect your business from liability.

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