On October 31, 2008, in Mujtaba Aidroos, et. al v. Vance Uniformed Protection Servs., Inc., et. al, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, affirmed summary judgment in favor of defendants Vance Uniformed Protection Services, Inc. (“Vance”) and LatessaDiamond, in a consolidated action involving claims for negligence, wrongful death, and survival damages.
The case arose from the shooting deaths and injuries that occurred at Navistar International Transportation Corp (“Navistar”) in Melrose Park, Illinois, on the morning of February 5, 2001. Navistar had hired Vance to provide unarmed, uniformed security officer service according to the specific terms of their contract. Vance employed Diamond as a security officer.
Prior to February 2001, there was no history of any workplace violence at Navistar. The shooter, Willie Baker, was fired from Navistar in 1995 for theft, but had never threatened anyone at Navistar before or after his termination.
At about 9:45 a.m. on February 5, 2001, Baker parked in Navistar’s visitors’ parking lot and entered an unlocked door of a gate guardhouse station, carrying weapons concealed in a golf bag. Diamond asked if she could help him. Baker said he wanted to drop off the golf bag for an employee. When Diamond retrieved the employee directory, Baker put a gun to her head. He took Diamond hostage and forced her to walk with him to building 10, which was unlocked (contrary to policy). Inside, Baker randomly shot people, killing four and wounding others before killing himself.
Multiple plaintiffs filed a consolidated personal injury action alleging that the defendants breached their duty to protect them against this intrusion and shooting. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment contending that they did not owe plaintiffs a duty to warn or protect them from the criminal acts of Baker. The appellate court agreed with the defendants, and dismissed the case.
The Court cited the law in Illinois, that in negligence actions, plaintiffs must set out sufficient facts to allege “the existence of a duty owed by defendants to the plaintiffs, a breach of that duty, and an injury proximately resulting from the breach.” The existence of a duty — “the legal obligation imposed upon one for the benefit of another” — is a question of law to be determined by the court.
As note by the Court, ordinarily, a party owes no duty of care to protect another from the harmful or criminal acts of third persons. However, there are four exceptions to this rule: (1) when the parties are in a “special relationship” — i.e., common carrier/passenger, inkeeper/guest, etc.; (2) when an employee is in imminent danger and this is known to the employer; (3) when a principal fails to warn his agent of an unreasonable risk of harm involved in the agency; and (4) when any party voluntarily or contractually assumes a duty to protect another from the harmful acts of a third party. According to the court, the “only relevant exception in the instant case is the fourth exception concerning a voluntarily undertaking.”
Plaintiffs argued that defendants contractually undertook and increased the risk of harm when they failed to properly lock doors and protect access points; defendants were employed to fulfill Navistar’s duty to protect its employees from third-party attacks; and Navistar and its employees relied on defendants to secure the facility and exclude feared intruders. The Court disagreed.
Under the contract between Vance and Navistar, it states that “the principal function of [Vance] is to maintain a presence, to observe and to report,” and that Vance is “not a law enforcement agency . . . [and does] not insure or guarantee the personal safety of any person or the security of any property.” Accordingly, the Court noted that “the contract specifically stated that Vance did not guarantee the personalsafety of any person and had no liability arising from the criminal acts of any third parties.”
Furthermore, the Court found that the security guards were not required to keep the gate guardhouse doors locked, and therefore Diamond complied with her orders and performed her job duties with reasonable care. Additionally, there was no history of any workplace violence at Navistar prior to 2001, which should have put the defendants on notice of potential threats.
Therefore, the Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants because it held they had “no duty to protect plaintiffs from third-party criminal acts.”
To succeed in similar future lawsuits, successful Chicago personal injury lawyers must demonstrate that their client’s case falls under one of the four “exceptions” to the general rule that a party owes no duty of care to protect another from the harmful or criminal acts of third persons.