Premises Liability: Third-Party Criminal Acts

As a general rule, if a customer/invitee of a business is harmed by a third-party criminal act, the business is not responsible. The rationale for this rule is that criminal acts are rarely foreseeable. Early v. Dunn, 670 S.W.3d 47, 51 (Mo. App. E.D. 2023). There are a number of exceptions.

First, a duty arises when a person, known to be violent, is present on the premises or an individual is present who has conducted himself so as to indicate danger and sufficient time exists to prevent injury. Wieland v. Owner-Operator Services, Inc., 540 S.W.3d 845, 849 (Mo. 2018). Second, there is potential liability when a business knows or has reason to know of dangerous persons in general frequenting its premises, without regard to any specific person entering the business’s premises. Id. Finally, there is a duty when there is either a “special relationship” or “special facts and circumstances.” Early, 670 S.W.3d at 51. A special relationship is one where a party entrusts himself to the protection of another and relies upon that person to provide a place of safety. Id. Examples of this would include innkeeper-guest, common carrier-passenger, school-student, and sometimes employer-employee. Meadows v. Friedman R.R. Salvage Warehouse, 655 S.W.2d 718, 721 (Mo. App. E.D. 1983).

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