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Are retailers responsible if a customer is injured during a theft?

On Behalf of | Apr 2, 2024 | Premises Liability

There’s no question that retail thefts by large groups of people are becoming more common – and more violent. Customers can easily be injured in the chaos.

Those responsible can be held criminally accountable for their actions if and when they’re apprehended, but can a retailer incur any liability? There’s no definitive answer to this question, as the answer depends on multiple factors. With that said, in various civil cases, Georgia court rulings over the years have better defined when store or other business owners have liability when a customer or other guest is injured by a third party.

Georgia law and court decisions

Under Georgia law, “Where an owner or occupier or land, by express or implied invitation, induces or leads others to come upon his premises for any lawful purpose, he is liable in damages to such person for injuries caused by his failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe.”

A key concern in such situations is whether the owner did enough to make their property and those on it safe from trespassers who would do harm – especially given any previous robberies or other criminal activity they’ve experienced. For example, if they’ve been robbed multiple times, have they beefed up their surveillance and other measures to discourage criminals?

Perilous instrumentality and foreseeability

In one Georgia case, a court ruled that, “The true ground for liability is the proprietor’s superior knowledge of the perilous instrumentality and the danger therefrom to persons going upon the property. It is when the perilous instrumentality is known to the owner or occupant and not known to the person injured that a recovery is permitted.”

Another term often used is “foreseeability.” If a convenience store is considered an easy target because it’s on a busy road and open 24/7, an armed robbery could be considered a foreseeable event.

What if a small store is located in a quiet neighborhood with little or no crime and has never been robbed? Maybe it still has surveillance cameras inside and outside and silent alarms to contact police. One day, there’s a violent armed robbery and a customer is shot. It may be tougher to argue that the store bears any responsibility since it seems to have taken proper precautions to prevent and deal with an unlikely event.

Every case is different. If you or a loved one was caught in the crossfire of a store robbery, seeking legal guidance can help you determine whether you can hold the store owner partially liable for the harm you’ve suffered.