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Posecai v. Wal-Mart Stores

    Brief Fact Summary. The Supreme Court of Louisiana granted Defendant’s application for a writ of certiorari, to review Fifth Circuit, Jefferson Parish, Court of Appeals’ decision, which found Defendant liable for Plaintiff’s injuries.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Under the duty-risk analysis, the plaintiff must prove that the conduct in question was the cause-in-fact of the resulting harm, i.e., that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, the requisite duty was breached by the defendant and the risk of harm was within the scope of protection afforded by the duty breached. Under the duty-risk analysis, all inquiries must be answered in the affirmative for plaintiff to recover.

    Facts. Plaintiff was robbed in the parking lot of a Sam’s Club, owned by Wal-Mart Stores (Defendant). Plaintiff sued, contending that Defendant was negligent in failing to provide adequate security in the parking lot considering the high level of crime in the surrounding area. The trial judge ruled for Plaintiff. Defendant appealed.

    Issue. Was the risk of harm suffered by Plaintiff foreseeable to Defendant thus imposing sole liability for damages?
    * Should Louisiana adopt a different test for foreseeability?

    Held. No. The court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals, entered judgment in favor of the Defendant. The court concluded that Defendant owed no duty to protect Plaintiff from being robbed in Defendant’s parking lot, because it was not foreseeable.
    * Yes. The court adopted a new standard, a balancing test formulated in California and adopted by Tennessee, in which courts balance the foreseeability of harm to a potential plaintiff and the burden of imposing a duty on a business to protect against the criminal acts of third persons.

    Discussion. Posecai illustrates the standard framework in analysis of tort law – that is the four elements of duty, breach, causation and harm. With regard to duty, the court offers a broad explanation: “[a] threshold issue in any negligence action is whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty. Whether a duty is owed is a question of law. In deciding whether to impose a duty in a particular case, the court must make a policy decision in light of the unique facts and circumstances presented. The court may consider various moral, social, and economic factors, including the fairness of imposing liability; the economic impact on the defendant and on similarly situated parties; the need for an incentive to prevent future harm; the nature of defendant’s activity; the potential for an unmanageable flow of litigation; the historical development of precedent; and the direction in which society and its institutions are evolving.”
    * Once a duty is established, a second issue arises with respect to proximate cause: foreseeability, i.e., whether the defendant should have reasonably foreseen, as a risk of her conduct, the general consequences or type of harm suffered by the plaintiff. As the Posecai notes, “[t]he foreseeability of the crime risk on the defendant’s property and the gravity of the risk determine the existence and the extent of the defendant’s duty. The greater the foreseeability and gravity of the harm, the greater the duty of care that will be imposed.”
    * Finally, with respect to the new standard the court adopted, the court explained that “[t]he balancing test addresses the interests of both business proprietors and their customers by balancing the foreseeability of harm against the burden of imposing a duty to protect against the criminal acts of third persons. In determining the duty that exists, the foreseeability of harm and the gravity of harm must be balanced against the commensurate burden imposed on the business to protect against that harm. In cases in which there is a high degree of foreseeability of harm and the probable harm is great, the burden imposed upon defendant may be substantial. Alternatively, in cases in which a lesser degree of foreseeability is present or potential harm is slight, less onerous burdens may be imposed. Under this test, the high degree of foreseeability necessary to impose a duty to provide security, will rarely, if ever, be proven in the absence of prior similar incidents of crime on the proper
    ty.”


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