South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Business Owner Not Responsible for Criminal Acts in Public Parking Lots
Description Delaware high court held that the owner of a bar could not be held liable in the murder of a patron who parked in a public parking lot behind the bar. The owner had no duty to warn of danger of the parking lot even though the owner was aware that crimes had occurred there.
Topic Torts
Key Words Premises Liability; Warning; Control; Protection
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts At 10 o’clock one evening, two women parked in a public parking lot behind Bottlecaps Bar. They were going to hear a band that was playing at the bar and had heard an advertisement saying that parking was available behind the bar. When they parked, an unknown assailant shot and killed one of the women. Her estate sued Bottlecaps, contending that it has a duty either to warn of, or protect the victim, from crime in the parking lot. The trial court dismissed the suit. Plaintiffs appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. The bar owner did not owe a duty either to warn patrons of or to protect patrons from crime associated with a public parking lot located behind the bar. Although bar management was aware of crime in the area, and advertised free public access to the lot for its patrons, the owner could not be expected to protect its patrons from crime that occurred on the lot any more than it could protect patrons who parked on nearby public streets. It would have been impossible to allocate responsibility equitably among patrons and merchants benefiting from the parking spaces.

Citation Rhudy v. Bottlecaps Inc., 830 A.2d 402 (Sup. Ct., Del., 2003)

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