When Criminals Pay You A Visit: Liability For Third Party Crimes Committed At Your Workplace

Police arrested a 25-year-old man who broke into a woman's home the day before he kidnapped her and her minor child. He waited for her until she arrived, then held them at knifepoint overnight, and into the next day.

The following day, the woman convinced the man to take them to a store in town. While they were there, she mouthed the words "help me" to several shoppers in the store. Deputies responded to the store that afternoon.

The perpetrator is believed to have forced the woman to undress in front of him while they were at her house. He threatened her with physical injury if she did not comply. Police allege he did this with the intention of terrorizing the woman. Deputies believe he did not know the woman and the child at the time of the kidnapping.

The man had been convicted of second-degree criminal mischief, strangulation, and first-degree sexual abuse in 2011 and was out on parole. He is now facing additional charges of two counts of first-degree kidnapping; menacing; first-degree burglary; unlawful use of a weapon; unlawful possession of a weapon; giving false information to the police; and a parole violation warrant for sex abuse. Lauren Hernandez "Man facing additional coercion charges in alleged kidnapping of Salem woman" https://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/crime/2017/12/10/salem-man-arrested-kidnapping-charges-after-woman-mouths-help-me-shoppers-christopher-hahn-collins/938778001/ (Dec. 10, 2017).

Commentary and Checklist

The customers and staff of the store helped save this woman and her child by reporting her whispers for help. The employer acted appropriately, once it knew of the crime, by reporting it to the police.

Generally, a business owner is not liable for an injury caused by a negligent or willful act of a third person who is not an employee where the employer has no reason to anticipate such conduct. In the absence of a statute or a special legal relationship, there is no duty to protect another from a criminal assault or willful act of violence of a third person. However, when the crime is being committed on an invitee (here, the woman as a store customer) by a third person, the law imposes “on the premises owner a duty to take reasonable precautions to protect against it.”

How can employers help protect customers from crimes on their premises?

  • Carry out a thorough risk assessment. Identify where your business is most vulnerable, especially if you have already been a victim of crime.
  • Secure your business premises (e.g., install silent alarm buttons; strengthen doors, install window locks and security cameras along with security lighting).
  • Train your staff in the event there is a serious threat. Your employees should be able to identify suspicious behaviors of people who enter your premises.
  • Secure your equipment. Conduct regular property and equipment audits and assign individual employees to be responsible for specific equipment.
  • Prevent employee theft by doing thorough background checks before hiring. Implement policies about theft and make sure to inform all members of your staff.
  • Work with crime prevention officers at your local police station. They are the experts who can provide valuable information about crime and they can also help educate your employees on what to do.
  • Make sure your security measures are always up-to-date.
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