The Explainer: Landowner Liability for Criminal Acts of Third Parties

by Christian Stegmaier

I read this morning (3/27/09) of a robbery at a quick service restaurant in the Upstate. Unfortunately, from time to time, patrons are injured by the tortious conduct of third persons. This conduct includes armed robberies or spontaneous fights that may break out. The following is a brief primer on the law in South Carolina regarding commerical landowner liability for the criminal acts of third parties.
Under South Carolina law, a merchant is not charged with the duty of protecting its customer against criminal acts of third parties when it did not know or have reason to know that such acts were occurring or about to occur. Callen v. Cale Yarborough Enterprises, 314 S.C. 204, 442 S.E.2d 216 (Ct. App. 1994) (declining to hold Hardee’s liable for the crimes of third persons despite knowledge that numerous other violent incidents had occurred in prior years; no incidents that evening put Hardee’s on notice of unrest or potential for violence, and Hardee’s is not the type of operation that attracted or provided a climate for crime); see also Munn v. Hardee’s Food Sys., Inc., 274 S.C. 529, 266 S.E.2d 414 (1980) (holding that despite an incident earlier that night involving a group of people making derogatory comments of a racial nature, there was no reason for Hardee’s to expect a violent fight would break out); Shipes v. Piggly Wiggly St. Andrews, Inc., 269 S.C. 479, 484, 238 S.E.2d 167, 169 (1977) (“There is no duty … upon merchants and shopkeepers generally, whose mode of operation of their premises does not attract or provide a climate for crime, to guard against the criminal acts of a third party, unless they know or have reason to know that acts are occurring or about to occur on the premises that pose imminent probability of harm to an invitee….”) (quoting Cornpropst v. Sloan, 528 S.W.2d 188 (Tenn.1975)).

This material is intended to provide information on a noteworthy legal issue and is not a substitute for legal advice. For further assistance, contact competent legal counsel to discuss the same.
About Christian Stegmaier
Senior Shareholder

Christian Stegmaier is a shareholder and chair of the Retail & Hospitality Practice Group at Collins & Lacy in Columbia. He is also active in the firm’s professional liability and appellate practices. Stegmaier welcomes your questions at (803) 255-0454 or