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Judicial decisions.

Premises liability. In a unanimous decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld a $1.5 million liability award to the estate of a woman killed in a department store parking lot. The decision clarifies existing Connecticut law, reinforcing a property owner's responsibility to maintain adequate security.

Marion B. Javery was shopping at a Bloomingdale's department store in Stamford, Connecticut. After completing her purchases, Javery returned to her car, which she had parked on the ground floor of the department store's covered parking garage. As Javery placed her bags in the trunk of her car, Bernard Williams approached her from behind and made it clear that he intended to rob her. When Javery resisted her attacker, she was stabbed repeatedly and left on the parking garage floor, where she died.

Walter Stewart, administrator of Javery's estate, sued Bloomingdale's parent company, Federated Department Stores. Inc., for inadequate security, claiming that the store should have provided security that would have prevented the crime that took Javery's life.

No security officer was on duty at the time of Javery's murder. The plaintiff noted that the store employed five security officers inside the building and only one to guard the three-story garage. According to the company's own records, the officer assigned to the garage was frequently called away to monitor the loading dock where he was also responsible for security.

The plaintiff asserted that physical security was also lax in the garage. Company records indicated that more than 300 florescent lights were burnt out or inoperative on the day of the murder. In addition, the plaintiff's attorneys pointed out that no gates, fences, or other physical impediment kept undesirables out of the garage.

The store was located in a noted high crime area. In the year prior to the murder, more than 1,000 serious crimes were committed within two blocks of the parking garage. Customers and employees had been robbed at knife-point in the garage while no security officer was present. Employees had issued repeated requests for increased security in the garage, but, according to testimony at the trial, management took no steps to increase safety.

The store's security director had also requested additional security. According to testimony at the trial, the security manager conducted a security survey and issued a report to senior management recommending that an additional security officer be employed in the garage. The security director's report included a request that the garage be enclosed with a fence.

A jury in the Connecticut Superior Court awarded the plaintiff $1.5 million in damages. The jury found that Bloomingdale's was negligent in providing security to its patrons and that this negligence was the proximate cause of Javery's death. The defendant appealed the ruling to the Connecticut Supreme Court, claiming that the company could not be responsible for the violent acts of third parties.

The supreme court upheld the superior court verdict, ruling that the requests from employees for increased security and the recommendation of in-house security personnel rendered the crime foreseeable. And while the store's managers may not have predicted that a murder would occur, they were aware that armed robberies routinely took place and could have escalated into further violence.

According to Stewart's attorney, Richard A. Silver of Silver, Golub & Teitell of Stamford, Connecticut, the case reinforces existing law regarding the level of responsibility building owners and managers have to patrons. Silver adds that business owners should not regard the $1.5 million award as average. This case, he says, yielded a low award because the victim was sixty years old and only employed part-time. Other victims could receive much higher awards. (Walter A. Stewart v. Federated Department Stores, No. 15124, Connecticut Supreme Court, 1995)
COPYRIGHT 1996 American Society for Industrial Security
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:property owners' responsibility
Author:Anderson, Theresa
Publication:Security Management
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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