In December of 2011, Jeremi Atkinson entered a grocery store through a side door leading up to the store manager’s office. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and black face mask. Atkinson encountered a female security guard upon climbing a stairway down the corridor and placed the security guard in a headlock. The two began to struggle.
Another female security guard heard the commotion and arrived on the scene. Atkinson engaged with the second guard and while still holding the first guard in a headlock, placed the second guard in a choke hold. The manager of the store heard the altercation and approached the situation. Releasing the two security guards, Atkinson charged at the store manager. Having a concealed gun in his pocket, the store manager retrieved the weapon and fired three shots at the robber. Atkinson died from resulting injuries.
The store holds a policy that employees may not have weapons at work. The family of Atkinson filed a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging that due to the strict no-gun policy, the store broke a duty of care owed to Atkinson. According to the suit, the store failed to uphold its policy because an employee did in fact have a concealed weapon, making Atkinson a victim of this failure.
In reaction the store filed a motion for summary judgement, asserting that there was no evidence the store manager was acting on behalf of the store when he shot and killed the alleged robber. Given that the defense of the store is not a primary job role for the manager, he was not under specific duty to protect the store, its merchandise or security professionals. He was therefore acting outside of the scope of his employment, so the argument goes.
The grocery store’s motion for summary judgement was granted by the district court. Given that the store did not know that the store manager was carrying a concealed weapon, it did not willfully want to cause harm to Atkinson. The district court agreed with the store that the store manager was acting outside of the scope of his role as a store manager at the time when he shot and killed Atkinson.
This case applicable to other property owners and those in the alarm and security businesses by gaining an understanding of what a landowner is responsible for. Premises liability cases such as this demonstrate that a landowner only owes a trespasser to refrain from intentionally causing harm to the trespasser upon their discovery. Atkinson clearly was a trespasser in this case, and given his aggression toward store personnel, the store manager acted outside of the scope of his job. The land owner only is responsible for not wantingly and willingly causing harm to the trespasser.
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