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E-Alert Case Updates

Owner of Travel Plaza Owed No Duty to Protect Patrons From Conduct of Third Parties Despite Prior Criminal Activity

Lief Erikson v. Pilot Travel Centers, LLC, et al.
Civil No. CCB-11-0461 (D. Md., June 20, 2012)

by Natalie Scurto, Summer Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

In Lief Erikson v. Pilot Travel Centers, LLC, the District Court granted Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court found that Defendants, Pilot Travel Centers, LLC, Pilot Flying J, Pilot Oil Corporation, and Don Blenner (collectively “Pilot”), owed no duty to Plaintiff, Lief Erikson (“Lief”), to protect him from the conduct of third parties while Lief was on Pilot’s property. Thus, Lief’s claim of negligence could not be sustained.

On January 18, 2009, Lief stopped at an Exxon gas station at Pilot in Perryville, Maryland at approximately 8:00 p.m. Pilot is a 24-hour retail operation that includes a gas station, fast food restaurants, a convenience store, showers and ATM machines. While at the gas station, Lief was approached by two unknown men and a physical altercation ensued whereby Lief was injured to the point that he lost consciousness. Lief brought suit against Pilot alleging negligence.

Lief argued that Pilot breached its duty to take reasonable steps to protect the safety of its customers. Lief asserted that his injuries were foreseeable due to the prior violent crimes that took place on Pilot’s premises and because travel plazas, in general, are known for having a high risk of violent crime. Furthermore, Lief argued that Pilot “voluntarily assumed the duty” to provide security by installing security cameras and training staff on security precautions.

Pilot argued that it had no duty to protect customers from third-party criminal activity because two (2) incidents of criminal activity since 1996 are insufficient to render Lief’s injuries foreseeable.

To recover for negligence, an individual must establish a duty owed to him, a breach of that duty, a causal connection between the breach and the injury, and damages. Generally, there is no duty to protect another person from the conduct of a third party, unless a special relationship exists between the parties. A storekeeper is not an insurer of customer safety. When third party criminal activity on a business owner’s premises is foreseeable, however, due to prior similar incidents, the business owner may be liable.

The Court rejected Lief’s arguments and held in favor of Pilot. The Court agreed with Pilot and found that the two (2) prior incidents of criminal activity, a robbery and theft of truck mirrors were not similar in nature to the violent assault suffered by Lief. Furthermore, finding the assault foreseeable based on only two (2) prior incidents of crime over a span of more than a decade would be dangerously close to establishing a storekeeper as an insurer of his customer’s safety. In response to Lief’s argument that Pilot voluntarily assumed the duty to provide security, the Court noted that Lief failed to demonstrate “that: (1) Pilot’s alleged failure to provide adequate security services increased his risk of harm, [and] (2) he suffered because of his reliance on Pilot’s security services.”

The District Court granted Pilot’s Motion for Summary Judgment, holding that a business owner has no duty to protect customers from third party criminal activity occurring on the storeowner’s premises when the activity is not reasonably foreseeable.


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