The Missouri Chamber Legal Foundation filed an amicus brief urging the Missouri Supreme Court to accept transfer in Wieland v. Owner Operator Services, Inc. The Court heard arguments in this case Nov. 8, 2017, to determine whether business owners have a duty to invitees on their premises for the criminal acts of third parties.
Amy Wieland, an employee of OOSI, had been threatened and harassed by an estranged boyfriend and facts adduced at trial indicate she informed OOSI about the threats. As Ms. Wieland was leaving OOSI and headed to her car in the parking lot, she found her estranged boyfriend hiding in her vehicle. After a brief exchange, she walked away from her vehicle when the estranged boyfriend shot her in the back of the head. Although she survived she sustained significant injuries.
Attorneys for OOSI argued to the Supreme Court that as a general rule, businesses in Missouri are shielded from liability by the “no duty” rule, that they generally do not have a duty to invitees for the criminal acts of third parties on their premises. Only in limited circumstances and exceptions to the no duty rule can a business be found liable. Attorneys for Ms. Wieland argued that OOSI had established certain safety protocols, including a team to deal with these types of threats and a video surveillance system, and that once those protocols were established, they had a duty to monitor or follow through on those protocols and are therefore liable.
Attorneys for OOSI argued that Ms. Wieland submitted the case to the jury under the specific harm exception to the no duty rule. Under the specific harm exception, a business only has a duty once they have notice of specific dangers just prior to the assault. But without the knowledge of the specific harm, in this case that the estranged boyfriend came onto the property, OOSI urged the Court that they had no duty and there were no facts which could hold them liable for the criminal act of the boyfriend.
This case could have a monumental impact on business liability for the criminal acts of uninvited third parties that they have no amount of control over. If the Court sides with Ms. Wieland, businesses could be required to monitor video surveillance 24/7, or hire security to monitor the premises if they know there is even a chance that a threat could appear on the property. Similar precautionary measures would be incredibly costly and burdensome. The limited exceptions would swallow the “no duty” rule and businesses would be held to the simple foreseeability standard, which could greatly widen the theories of liability for the criminal acts of third parties.
The Missouri Chamber Legal Foundation anxiously awaits the Court’s decision in this case and will monitor for future updates.
You can listen to oral arguments in this case by clicking here.
For more information, contact Justin Arnold, general counsel for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, at email@example.com or 573.634.3511.