Easterling v. Burger King – Court of Appeals Affirms Restaurant Off-the-Hook for Violent Assault

When a person is violently assaulted by another, it can result in serious physical injuries, scarring, permanent disfigurement and long-term emotional trauma. The perpetrators in these cases will usually face judgement in criminal court. But where does that leave the victim? drivefastsaab

In some situations, civil action may be appropriate to secure financial compensation to assist with medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering. Of course, the person who committed the assault can be liable. Unfortunately all too often, those individuals don’t have sufficient assets to cover a judgment. Plus, insurance companies almost never pay benefits for injuries caused by an intentional act of harm by an insured.

That leaves those injured with few options. One that may be worth exploring is premises liability. In some instances, property owners or managers may be liable for an attack that occurs on their property when the risk was reasonably foreseeable and there was a failure to address that risk or warn of it. In a recent case before the South Carolina Court of Appeals, a man who suffered a violent attack while patronizing a fast food drive through sought compensation from the restaurant. However, the court ultimately determined the risk was not foreseeable. 

In Easterling v. Burger King, the victim reportedly had his nose bitten off by another customer. The victim alleged the restaurant failed to take appropriate steps to prevent the attack. A circuit judge granted summary judgment in favor of the restaurant. The plaintiff appealed, but the appellate court affirmed.

According to court records, the 32-year-old plaintiff was in line at a Charleston drive-through on Folly Road. It was about 10 p.m., and as we waited to place his order, a man in a vehicle behind him rear-ended him. He had never before seen this man and did not engage the man after this contact because he believed it to simply be an accident. He only wanted to get his food and go home.

However, after he placed his order and went through the drive-through lane, the man in the vehicle behind him started screeching his tires. Smoke billowed up from the vehicle. As plaintiff moved through the lane to pick up his food, the man behind him once again rear-ended him. Plaintiff then got out of his vehicle to look at the damage and the man behind him got out of his vehicle, approached aggressively, caused him to trip and hit his head, knocking him unconscious. The man then proceeded to bite plaintiff’s nose off.

Plaintiff agreed the attack was “totally unexpected” and he had no time to run inside the restaurant.

The manager at the store later testified she could not recall police ever being called to the site for any reason other than auto accidents. She had never witnessed someone intentionally rear-end another customer in the drive-through. She was also not aware of any history of violent crimes, physical altercations or fights.

A deputy testified he did not believe the restaurant to be an unsafe location.

The circuit court granted summary judgment in the personal injury lawsuit against the restaurant, finding the restaurant owed no legal duty of care to protect plaintiff from this assault.

On appeal, plaintiff argued the restaurant should be liable because it had actual knowledge of the altercation taking place before he sustained injuries and failed to contact police or take other action to intervene.He also pointed out other prior incidents of crime at the location going back six years. There was an armed robbery that took place four years earlier. The manager also knew that sometimes, people came to the restaurant drunk and rear-ended each other or honked when they became impatient for their food.

However, the appeals court ruled this was not enough to establish that the physical assault in this case was foreseeable. The court affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Easterling v. Burger King, May 19, 2016, South Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Pruett v. Bingham et al. – Government Contractors May Get Immunity, May 23, 2016, Rock Hill Premises Liability Lawyer Blog

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