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Center Bears Some Assault Fault
by Ron Davis
Responsibility for an assault at a New Jersey shopping center will be shared by the center’s owner and the assailant. That ruling by New Jersey’s courts has not pleased the victim of the assault, however.
The shopping center is Monmouth Mall in Monmouth, and the assault victim wants the shopping center’s owner saddled with full responsibility. She argues that the shopping center’s security was remiss and slow to respond to her need for help.
The assault occurred while the victim and her son were standing in line at an ATM located in the center’s common area. The assailant was behind her in line and apparently became impatient and tried to cut in front of her. When she protested, the assailant knocked her down, punched her, and slammed her head against the floor.
Although the duration of the altercation is disputed, the center’s security personnel did not immediately respond. A passerby intervened and stopped the assault. The woman’s injuries from the attack required immediate medical treatment and subsequent surgery.
She sued both the shopping center owner and the assailant, and a jury eventually decided that both the shopping center owner and the assailant were at fault, apportioning 60 percent of a $25,000 award against her assailant and 40 percent against the center’s owner.
The assault victim appealed in her attempt to require the center’s owner to pay the entire damage award.
A New Jersey appellate court refused to change the jury’s award, however, explaining, “It was established to the jury’s satisfaction that the shopping center’s response time [to the assault] was slow and that, overall, its security was lax or deficient. However, a business such as a shopping center cannot reasonably be expected to prevent every assault. Here, the record does not disclose a single incident at the ATM before the subject altercation, which might have elevated the general duty of the center to provide security to a specific duty geared to that precise location. Inasmuch as the duty did not encompass the obligation to prevent the assault, the jury simply refused to shift to it full responsibility for the woman’s injuries.” (Waldron v. Johnson, 2004 WL 868262)
Decision: March 2004
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