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Summary Judgment Obtained on Behalf of Business Owner in Parking Garage Assault

Attorneys for Cipriani & Werner, James Tierney, David Heisler, and Daniel Stofko, recently obtained summary judgment on behalf of the owner of a mall and adjoining parking garage, in a suit brought after the plaintiff was assaulted by an unknown criminal assailant after parking her car. The assault occurred during lunch hour on a regular business day in a mall parking garage open to the general public. The assault lasted a matter of seconds, ending when the plaintiff pressed the panic button on her car keys and the assailant fled. The plaintiff was struck in the face, lost several teeth, and allegedly suffers ongoing post-traumatic stress disorder.

 Discovery revealed that in more than 20 years of operation, there had never been a similar assault, carjacking, or stolen vehicle in the mall parking areas. Further, it was established that the mall provided security on premises at all times, and during business hours performed roving security patrols throughout the premises, including the area where the plaintiff was attacked. Plaintiff’s counsel subpoenaed Scranton Police Department records for all calls to mall property, arguing that same showed notice of criminal activity that would warrant an even higher level of security than that already in place.

After discovery, a Motion for Summary Judgment was filed on the basis that a possessor of land who holds it open to the public for entry for business purposes is not an insurer of the safety of visitors against the acts of third parties. A landowner may, however, have a duty to police an area or provide a reasonably sufficient number of servants to afford protection if past experience is such that the owner should reasonably anticipate criminal conduct. As noted above, the plaintiff attempted to argue that the number of calls to mall property was sufficient to raise a question of fact as to whether the mall should reasonably have anticipated criminal conduct in the mall parking garages.

In successfully arguing in favor of summary judgment on behalf of the mall owner, our attorneys were able to show that the prior incidents were of the type one would expect on mall property (shoplifting, trespass, juvenile infractions, traffic accidents), and did not rise to the level of seriousness of the plaintiff’s incident. Further, it was noted that the calls covered the entire mall property, inside and out, as well as the sidewalk areas and lane of travel in front of the entire length of the mall. Discovery revealed no parking garage assault or similar crime. As such, it was established that there was no activity that would give notice to the mall owner of the likelihood of a criminal assault occurring within the parking garage, which would warrant additional security measures. Summary judgment was entered in favor of our client.