Monday, February 23, 2009

Merchant's duty to help? ... or policy not to

Today in class we discussed whether a merchant should have a duty to help a customer when the customer is attacked while in (or just after leaving) the establishment. Right on cue, Jonathan Turley reports a related story from Little Rock, Arkansas. Apparently, a worker at a McDonald's there rushed to help a woman who was struck by a man. The woman's attacker responded by shooting the worker three times. Based on those facts, the worker was denied worker’s compensation for his injuries (which required three surgeries at a cost of $300,000) because according the the claims person the worker's injuries "did not arise out of, or within, the course of his employment.” This conclusion was based on the argument that the worker violated an official McDonald’s policy which says that in a robbery situation employees are not to do anything that would put themselves or anyone else in danger.


Anonymous said...

This story really puts the duty to help issue into context. I guess companies do not want to be liable for any injury arising out of their employee's efforts to help people not employed by that establishment. I wonder, is there a duty to help a co-worker if they were in danger? I would assume this is one of the exceptions the court describes as a personal relationship.

Professor Alberto Bernabe said...

My guess is that courts would not impose a general duty to help a co-worker either. Although plaintiffs (or their lawyers) keep asking courts to expand the types of relationships that would support the imposition of a duty to help and although there are cases here and there that may say a relationship as vague as "a friendship" is enough, my sense is that most courts continue to be reluctant to create a duty to help in most cases. Also, I do not think any court would impose a duty to help on anyone if it would mean that the person obligated to act would have to place him/herself in danger in order to help the person in need.