Damage Control

Criminal Intent

Another traditional duty is to warn people of known dangers, whether it's by posting a "wet floor" sign or mentioning the icy sidewalk you've been having trouble keeping clear. In another groundbreaking case, however, a warning wasn't enough. This case involved a woman who was approached twice in a bowling alley by a man she didn't know who demanded that she go to bed with him. The bouncer, who'd overheard, warned her as she was leaving at 2:00 a.m. not to go outside because "that goofball" was out there. Ignoring the warning, she walked to her car, where the man was waiting. He stabbed her repeatedly. The Supreme Court of California ruled that the bowling alley was liable because, knowing the potential danger, the bouncer should have walked the woman to her car.

What if there's a robbery? According to a recent case decided by the California Supreme Court, your employees are not required to cooperate with the robber to protect customers. In this case, a robber walked into a fast-food restaurant, seized a customer at gunpoint, and threatened to shoot her if the clerk didn't open the register and hand over the money. The clerk stalled, saying she would have to go back and get the key. The robber shoved the gun harder into the customer's back and screamed at the clerk, who then complied.

The customer later sued the fast-food chain, claiming that the clerk's failure to immediately comply caused her back injury and emotional distress. But in this case, the California Supreme Court ruled that the business had a right to resist, even if a customer was endangered. After all, public policy demands not encouraging compliance with crime. No state has imposed a duty on business owners to cooperate with criminals.

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This article was originally published in the August 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Damage Control.

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