Betts v. Jones. (Lawyers Weekly No. 10-07-1086, 7 pp.) (Sanford A. Steelman Jr., J.) Appealed from Randolph County Superior Court. (Henry E. Frye Jr., J.) N.C. App. Click here for the full text of the opinion.
Holding: A store owner is not liable for injuries sustained by a customer who was hit by the vehicle of a fleeing shoplifter when the owners were not chasing the shoplifter.
Summary judgment for defendant affirmed.
In 2005 a loss-prevention officer at a Lowe’s Foods store saw women enter the store and conceal 17 cans of powdered baby formula in their pocketbooks. The two women then went toward the store’s exit, where the officer positioned himself. He identified himself and the women moved toward him in an aggressive manner.
Defendant Regina Jones struck the officer and punched him when he tried to grab her. She was pepper-sprayed, then broke free and ran out of the store.
The officer did not pursue Jones; instead, he went to assist a bagger who was struggling with the other woman. Eventually, the other woman was subdued and turned over to police.
Plaintiff Betts had come to the store with his girlfriend to buy popsicles. Plaintiff walked out of the store to his vehicle while his girlfriend paid for the popsicles. He heard a commotion and was suddenly struck by a white Jeep operated by defendant Regina Jones. He suffered serious personal injuries.
Plaintiff filed this action against Jones, Joseph Glover (lessee of the Jeep), Enterprise Leasing Company SE (lessor of the Jeep) and Lowe’s Foods Inc. He alleged that the store’s employees were negligent in attempting to detain Jones and that this caused her to flee in such a manner as to cause his injuries.
The trial court granted Lowe’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed claims against Lowe’s with prejudice. Plaintiff appeals.
Plaintiff contends the trial court erred because genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether Lowe’s employees were negligent in the exercise of their duty to apprehend a potential shoplifter in a safe and reasonable manner. We disagree.
For a valid claim of negligence, plaintiff needed to show that there was a failure to exercise proper care in the performance of a legal duty owed to plaintiff, and that the negligent breach of duty was the proximate cause of the injury.
Ordinarily, a store owner is not liable for injuries caused by the intentional criminal acts of third parties. Such acts cannot be reasonably foreseen by the store owners.
In this case, plaintiff was not injured as a result of a criminal act, but by conduct incident to criminal activity.
Plaintiff cites a case in which summary judgment for the defendant business owner was found improper when a customer was injured going into the “in” door and collided with a suspected shoplifter running out the “in” door because the store had locked the “out” door.
The facts of this case are distinguishable. In the case before us, store personnel did not pursue Jones into the parking lot. The store’s tapes show that nearly half a minute elapsed between the time she left the store and the time her vehicle hit the plaintiff.
Because the store owner has a right to apprehend a shoplifter to retrieve goods, and no employee took additional action to increase the likelihood or foreseeability of harm to plaintiff, Lowe’s did not breach its duty to safeguard its customers from the acts of third persons.