Duty to Prevent a Crime
What happens in Louisiana if your driver sees a crime about to be committed and fails to prevent it (or even report it)?
Although morally repugnant, there is no legal duty to prevent or report. There is no general duty to protect others from the criminal activity of third persons, and the limited duty to protect others only arises when the criminal act in question was reasonably foreseeable to the owner of the business. Posecai, citing Harris v. Pizza Hut of Louisiana, Inc., 455 So.2d 1364, 1371 (La. 1984).
However, a greater level of forseeability and gravity of harm, will impose a greater duty of care on the business. Albritton v. Woods, 795 So.2d 1239, 34, 073 (La. App. 2 Cir. 9/28/01). In the Albritton case, a fight occurred between a bar patron and a third party in a parking lot across the street, which was leased by the bar. Albritton v. Woods, 795 So.2d at 1241. The patron was severely injured by the third party, and he sued the bar owner for failing to protect him from the criminal act of the third party. A court of appeal reasoned that only when the owner, management or employees of a business have or should have knowledge that a third person is about to engage in injurious conduct, which is within the power of the owner, management, or employees to protect against, does a duty to protect arise. Id. at 1243. See also Adams v. Traina, 830 So.2d 526, 36, 306 (La. App. 2 Cir. 10/25/02).
A commercial property owner has a duty to act reasonably in attempting to prevent injury to patrons. For example in Bradford v. Louisiana Downs, Inc., 606 So.2d 1370 (La. App. 2 Cir. 10/28/92), a patron was bitten by a copperhead in the parking lot at the racetrack. The Court held there was no duty to protect the patron against the risk of being bitten by a snake because the property owner did not know and should not have known of the risk the snake would pose to a patron. Specifically, the Court acknowledged that the property owner employed security personnel and parking lot employees to patrol the premises to attempt to ensure patron safety.
Business owners do not have a duty to protect patrons after business hours. in the case of Bezet v. The Original Library Joe’s, Inc., 838 So.2d 796, 2001-1586 (La. App. 1 Cir. 11/8/02), two people were attacked and stabbed in an alleyway and parking lot area leased by several businesses. The victims were walking to their vehicle after the night clubs closed, when they were assaulted. The Court analyzed the Louisiana Supreme Court’s holding in Posecai, and determined that the duty outlined in Posecai does not apply to an attack on a business owner’s premises after normal business hours.
In particular, the Court held that to extend the limited duty to require business owners to protect the general public at large at all times, including the hours which the business is closed to the public, would require businesses to assume far to much responsibility.