Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Summary Judgment Granted to Mall in Criminal Assault/Premises Liability Claim

In a recent Lackawanna County decision by Senior Judge Richard Saxton in the case of Young v. Prizm Asset Management Company, No. 2010-CV-8445 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Nov. 4, 2013, Saxton, J), the court granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendant landowner in a case in which the Plaintiff alleged personal injuries as a result of a criminal assault upon the Plaintiff in the parking garage of the Steamtown Mall in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff, was an employee of a store in the mall and was reporting to work during the afternoon of February 6, 2009, when she was attacked by an unknown, unidentified assailant, who is alleged to have attempted to steal her car.   The assault left the Plaintiff with various injuries for which she alleged that the Steamtown Mall was liable.

After the completion of discovery, the Steamtown Mall filed a Motion for Summary Judgment.   The mall argued that it did not breach any duty to the Plaintiff by allegedly failing to ensure her safety from an unanticipated criminal assault in an area open to the general public and that no act or omission on behalf of the mall was the cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries.  

In its ruling granting the motion, the court relied, in part, on the Restatement (Second) of Torts, §344 which covers liability for a possessor of land who holds a property open to the public for physical harm caused by intentional harmful acts of the third persons.   The court noted that, under the Restatement, a possessor of land is not an “insurer” of safety, but does have a duty to exercise “reasonable care” in affording protection for its business invitees.  

However, under the Restatement, the duty upon the landowner is only created where the landowner knows, or has reason to know that the acts of a third person are occurring or are about to occur which are likely to endanger the visitors safety.   Under this standard, the court was required to determine, as a matter of law, if the landowner knew or should have known that this criminal activity was likely.  

The Steamtown Mall asserted that the assault upon the Plaintiff was the first, and only, such assault of this kind to occur in its history.  

After reviewing the records before it, the Court ultimately ruled that there was no evidence to establish a genuine question of material fact as to any alleged duty owed or breached by the Steamtown Mall.  As such, the summary judgment motion was granted.  

Anyone wishing to review this Opinion in the Young case may click this LINK.. 

 I send thanks to Attorney Daniel D. Stofko, Esquire and David Heisler, Esquire of the Scranton, Pennsylvania office of the law firm of Cipriani and Werner, P.C. for bringing this case to my attention. 

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