Per Eugene Volokh‘s new article, a wide range of actors from landlords to employers to colleges to product manufacturers correctly see themselves as being at legal risk if they don’t surveill, probe, and share information about those they deal with:
Gathering or disclosing information about people’s backgrounds, tendencies, and actions is increasingly inexpensive, and increasingly effective at helping avoid, interrupt, or deter harm. …Failure to take those precautions thus becomes negligent. … Failure to provide camera surveillance is now a common claim in negligence cases.
An especially fertile source of such incentives is the duty (much expanded by modern developments in liability law) to take reasonable precautions against criminal acts by others. It will soon be feasible at low cost, if it is not already, for automakers to install electronic components in new cars that send a warning communication — to police monitors, for example — when a motorist tries to drive at very high speed. What will happen after automakers begin to be sued after accidents for not installing such components?
At 5 a.m., although the seating area of the fast-food restaurant was closed, the drive-through window was still filling orders. Some people were partying in the parking lot when Ali Aziz and a friend arrived. The friend got into an altercation with the partiers, Aziz stepped in and was beaten and nearly killed, suffering brain damage. Lawyers proceeded to argue that the fast-food chain should have trained its employees better and failed to follow its own procedures for handling disruptive customers. “The jury award was actually for $25 million but was reduced to $20.5 million because jurors found Aziz was partially to blame for his involvement in the fight.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
“A Boston Red Sox fan who was harassed and stabbed through the neck by a New York Yankees fan at a restaurant in 2010 has been awarded $4.3 million by a jury. The jury in New Haven reached the verdict Thursday in favor of Monte Freire and against the restaurant, U.S.S. Chowder Pot III, in Branford, attorneys for both sides said.” The plaintiff’s lawyer said the restaurant had been put on notice that the Yankees fan was potentially violent and should have cut him off from further liquor; the restaurant’s attorney said that while the man had previously behaved like a jerk, he was sitting quietly when observed which is why the bartender decided only to monitor him. [ESPN]
Ryan Koopmans summarizes a baffling Iowa Supreme Court case in which a 4-3 majority of justices decided a bowling alley owner could be sued for having thrown a customer out for insulting a second customer, who — after reacting calmly at the time — then went out to the parking lot and committed violence on his provoker:
So what are the takeaways from the Hoyt decision? For bar and restaurant owners: It’s not enough to kick out an aggressive bar patron; unless you want to pay the cost of litigation and a full trial, your employees should call the police every time one patron taunts another, or, at the very least, they should personally escort every trash-talker to his car.
The takeaway for police departments: You’re going to need more officers.
Now guess who gets sued? [Ted Frank/PoL; Collins v. Navistar, California]
“[Keith Allen] Brown and four other inmates at Idaho’s Kuna facility are suing major beer companies, blaming their crimes on alcoholism and claiming that the companies are responsible because they don’t warn consumers that their products are addictive.” The laudatory Nicholas Kristof column practically writes itself, though one should note that the inmates “do not have attorneys and drafted the lawsuit themselves.” [Idaho Statesman]
“The family of a man shot and killed by his neighbor in Skagit County can proceed to trial on claims that the county’s emergency communications center mishandled its response to his panicked 911 call, Washington’s Supreme Court ruled.” According to his family, a 911 operator told William Munich that help was on the way but did not code the call as an emergency; a sheriff’s deputy showed up 18 minutes later, by which time Munich had been shot by the irate neighbor. “I am concerned the majority’s decision will put unwarranted pressure on every statement made by 911 operators, straining communications that depend on the free flow of information,” wrote dissenting Justice James Johnson. [KOMO; Munich (Gayle) v. Skagit Emergency Communications Center, holding, dissent (wrong link fixed now); background on Washington's unusual approach to sovereign immunity]
P.S. Another Washington sovereign liability case of interest: Robb v. City of Seattle, “Whether the city of Seattle may be liable in an action for wrongful death brought by the survivor of a murder victim based on the failure of police to confiscate ammunition while detaining the murderer for questioning just before the murder occurred.” [Temple of Justice]
Yes, it’s a lawyer — and from a reasonably well-known New York firm at that — blaming the theater operator for the Aurora, Colo. attack [Abnormal Use ("It is interesting that Mr. Bern chose to say the 'primary responsibility' for the shooting lies with Cinemark. I would have probably placed the primary responsibility on the guy with the gun who was actually doing the shooting"), earlier; BBC]
A Texas appeals court has affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit seeking to hold Anheuser-Busch liable for an assault suffered by a bar patron. The suit alleged that the long-neck design of the bottle made it too attractive for assailants seeking a weapon; the court agreed with the brewer that the plaintiff had failed to make out a sufficient case to avoid summary judgment. [Wajert, Mass Tort Defense]
Attorney Donald Karpel, representing a theatergoer, plans to sue the theater in Aurora, Colo., the doctors who prescribed medications for the killer, and Warner Brothers, for “rampant violence” in its Batman movie. [TMZ] Suits against movie studios, at least, unlikely to prevail, so let’s be thankful for small sanities [Reuters] “That a cinema should prepare to repel a concerted paramilitary attack is only reasonable In Times Like These.” [George Wallace] More: Ken at Popehat.
Ellen Shane, 62, of Carteret, N.J., was taken hostage at knifepoint by a parolee at Woodbridge Center Mall and was freed only when a police officer shot the criminal dead. Now she “plans to sue the township for $5 million, claiming it failed to protect public safety and that she was injured as a result of the officer’s acts. Both Shane and her husband, Ronald Shane, ‘are suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome and both have been dramatized from this incident,’ according to the tort claim notice filed by their lawyer, David Corrigan of Eatontown’.” It alleges that the officer should “attempt[ed] to resolve the situation” by other means before shooting. [Tom Haydon, Newark Star-Ledger via AnnMarie McDonald, NJLRA, from which the headline is taken]
Brian Banks served more than five years in prison after an old friend “falsely accused him of attacking her on their high school campus”:
In a strange turn of events, the woman, Wanetta Gibson, friended him on Facebook when he got out of prison.
In an initial meeting with him, she said she had lied; there had been no kidnap and no rape and she offered to help him clear his record, court records state.
But she refused to repeat the story to prosecutors because she feared she would have to return a $1.5 million payment from a civil suit brought by her mother against Long Beach schools….
It was uncertain Thursday whether Gibson will have to return the money.
[AP via Balko, Volokh; & welcome Reddit readers]
Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, high-profile Brooklyn sex crimes prosecutor Lauren Hersh has resigned following a furor over a sex trafficking case in which “prosecutors had held on to documents showing the victim recanted rape allegations one day after making them.” [NY Post, more] P.S. Daniel Fisher reminds us of Hersh’s “starring role in New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s expose of Backpage, the Village Voice’s online personals section.”
“[An Indiana appeals] court has found that an ever so slightly negligent (2%) business owner needs to pay for 99% of the harm caused by a murderer. Citing the Restatement (Third) of Torts. Section 14, a public policy in favor of adequately compensating the wronged … and the difficulty murderers have in procuring insurance to cover their rampages, the appellate court in Santelli v. Rahmatulla found that the Restatement provides a handy way of escaping Indiana’s reform of its joint and several liability rule.” [David Oliver] More: Point of Law (motel “[adhered] to the non-discriminatory EEOC principle of not performing criminal background checks”).
In which the “self-appointed busybody vigilante” familiar from so much press coverage smoothly turns into “designated security agent of the homeowners’ association.” [Associated Press]
Murfreesboro: “A former MTSU student accused of stabbing a Lady Raider basketball player to death at Raiders Crossing Apartments in 2011 is suing the complex and its management company for failing to separate the two despite knowing they had problems with one another. … The attorney [Joe Brandon Jr.] included Twitter postings by Stewart as supporting evidence of a negative and deteriorating relationship between the two women.” [The Tennessean]
Four people were killed when pill addict David Laffer robbed a Medford, N.Y. pharmacy. Now the survivors of victim Jamie Taccetta are suing a variety of defendants including the drugstore whose pharmacist was killed, the Suffolk County police and a former commissioner, “and pharmaceutical companies that make the drug oxycodone.” [CBS New York, Newsday]