Court of Appeals Clarifies Businesses’ Duty to Protect Customers From Criminal Acts of Third Parties

In Tillman v. Perfect Pitcher Sports Pub (Case No. 328520, Unpublished), the Michigan Court of Appeals issued an opinion addressing the scope of a businesses’ duty to protect its customers from the criminal acts of third parties.

In this case, Defendant, Perfect Pitcher Sports Pub, hired Plaintiff to perform as a DJ for the night. Throughout his performance, Plaintiff noticed a few altercations between two individuals and his friend. The altercations turned physical and Plaintiff ultimately decided to leave the premises for fear of physical harm. As he was exiting the bar, Plaintiff was shot in the wrist. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a claim against the Defendant bar alleging that the Defendant was liable for his injuries because it failed to fulfill its duty to “reasonably expedite police involvement.” Specifically, Plaintiff argued that Defendant was negligent for having waited until Plaintiff was shot to contact the police.

The trial court dismissed the case prior to trial, holding that, as a matter of law, Defendant had no duty to contact the police prior to the time that Plaintiff was shot.  On appeal, however, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the trial court.  In doing so, the Court of Appeals held that there was an issue of fact as to whether or not the Defendant had fulfilled its duty to “reasonably expedite the involvement of the police.”  Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that a reasonable juror could find that Defendant had a duty to contact the police when the first altercations took place and before anyone was shot.

This was a messy case with multiple appeals to the Court of Appeals and a disagreement between the Justices on the appellate panel.  This should alert businesses to the fact that this is an unsettled area of law.  In order to avoid a lengthy and expensive court battle, and ensure the safety of customers, businesses should err on the side of caution and expedite police involvement when there is a concern over the security of its customers.

Businesses should also train their employees to recognize and respond to threats of violence in a quick and efficient manner. It can be difficult to foresee the potential for violence.  Therefore, when in doubt, call the police. It is better to err on the side of safety than to potentially be liable for another person’s criminal actions.

This Article was written by Nezar Habhab, Law Clerk.


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