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Gas Station Owner Found Not Liable for Plaintiff’s Injury Resulting from Shooting on His Premises

By on February 5, 2016 in Liability with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Jerome White was shot during third party defendant Walter Gleaton’s attempt to kill a passenger in plaintiff’s vehicle while on the premises of defendant Shan’s gas station in Trenton. As a result of the shooting, Plaintiff suffered a fracture to his thoracic vertebrae and became a paraplegic. In White v. Getty Petroleum Marketing, Inc., 2016 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 136 (App. Div. Jan. 25, 2016), plaintiff sued Shan, claiming he was negligent for not providing adequate security to prevent and deter criminal acts.

The incident occurred at 2:19 am at defendant Shan’s Getty gas station. Plaintiff drove his vehicle to the gas station, in which the passenger Parker (Gleaton’s intended victim) was seated in the front passenger seat of White’s vehicle. Seconds after their arrival, Gleaton approached the passenger side of the vehicle and, after Parker told Gleaton to get away in no uncertain terms, Gleaton shot plaintiff in the chest and Parker in the neck and ear. Apparently, this shooting was gang related.

Shan argued that he owed no duty of care to the plaintiff and that the intentional shooting was an intervening superseding cause of plaintiff’s injuries. He further argued that the shooting was not foreseeable because the evidence did not demonstrate any pattern of violent criminal activity that occurred at the gas station.

The plaintiff retained an expert who opined that the defendant breached a duty to the plaintiff by failing to provide adequate security for customers. The expert relied on the gas station’s location in Trenton, a known high crime area containing gangs.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgement, requesting a dismissal. The judge noted the lack of evidence showing any violent crimes at the gas station for at least three years before the shooting. Also, due to the history of hostility between Gleaton and Parker, as well as the shooting having occurred within seconds of their contact, the trial court judge found that the events constituted a superseding cause. Further, even though the gas station was in a high crime area, because plaintiff failed to present any evidence that this criminal conduct should have been anticipated by a property owner, the judge found that no duty existed to protect the plaintiff. As a result, the judge granted summary judgment, dismissing the case.

On appeal, the court pointed out that whether a duty of care is owed by a landowner to an injured plaintiff depends upon the foreseeability of a defendant’s conduct under a totality of the circumstances. Business owners are not generally responsible for the criminal acts of others. A duty will not be imposed, even in a high crime area, unless there is evidence of prior, similar incidents or, if there were no prior criminal acts on the premises, but the owner was aware of prior criminal activity in the neighborhood.

In circumstances involving gang violence and shootings, the courts have looked to the business or property owner’s experience and knowledge dealing with violent crimes. Here, the evidence failed to establish a pattern of criminal activity transpiring on the gas station’s premises or any incidents of violent crime that would have lead the defendant to foresee an attempted execution taking place at his gas station. The plaintiff could not dispute that the type of crimes occurring in the immediate area were not similar. Non-violent incidents that occurred with the three years before the shooting did not establish a pattern of the type of violent criminal conduct occurring at the gas station.

Hence, the Appellate Division refused to impose a duty upon the defendant gas station owner to prevent this specific attack. Accordingly, it upheld the order granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant Shan.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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