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Panic at the Mall: Security Guard Liability (NY)

July 16, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;">Are mall security officers liable for injuries caused to patrons by mass panic such as a stampede, evacuations, or active shootings, pursuant to their duties to provide safety?</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">A New York Appellate Court , in <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Grogan-v-Roosevelt-Field-Mall.pdf">Grogan v Roosevelt Field Mall</a>,</em> was recently met with this issue when a mall patron became injured at Roosevelt Field Mall during a false panic. In 2013, security guards at a Macy’s attempted to apprehend a patron for attempting to shoplift, however, during the struggle, glass perfume bottles were knocked over and shattered to the floor. Employees and other shoppers in the mall mistook the sound of the breaking glass bottles for gun shots. In a panic, those in the nearby Dick’s Sporting Goods store began to flee, creating a panic and knocking over the plaintiff who was allegedly injured.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The security company was granted summary judgment because it proved it had no duty to the plaintiff because its agreement with the mall provides that it only owes a duty to the parties in the contract; as it was only hired to provide security in the mall’s common areas, Macys, and Dick’s Sporting Goods.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">A previous case, <em>Arnone v. Morton’s of Chicago/Great Neck LLC</em>, Index No.: 603842/15 (2d Dep’t 2019), provides three situations in which a duty of care is established to third persons: (1) where the contracting party, in failing to exercise reasonable care in the performance of its duties launches a force or instrument of harm; (2) where the plaintiff detrimentally relies on the continued performance of the contracting party’s duties; and (3) where the contracting party has entirely displaced the other party’s duty to maintain the premises safely.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Here, the court held that none of the situations in <em>Arnone</em> apply to this case, thus no duty existed to the plaintiff.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Instead, the court declined to dismiss plaintiff’s negligence claims against the mall finding that triable issues of facts existed as to whether it was foreseeable that a disturbance in the mall could cause a dangerous panic and “landowners have a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to patrons on their property.” The court also found that the mall failed to prove that they did not have notice or an opportunity to control the crown before it reached the Dick’s Sporting Goods store.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thus, due to the provisions of the contractual agreement with the mall, the court held that no duty existed as to the safety of the customer but rather, the duty remained with the mall as the landowner.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Gabriella Scarmato for her contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:gcoats@wcmlaw.com">Georgia Coats</a> with any questions.</p>

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