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High Court Says Business Owner Not Responsible for Guest Shooting in Parking Lot

by | Feb 29, 2024 | Firm News |

Plaintiff v. Hospital, Case #SC100030 (2023)

Plaintiff brought a negligence claim against a health care institution after being shot in the parking lot, alleging the health care institution failed to protect him from the shooter.  The jury found against the health care institution at trial, but the Missouri Supreme Court reversed, holding the health care institution had no duty to protect the plaintiff from the shooter.

On December 23, 2015, the shooter arrived at the health care institution via ambulance with her boyfriend who was there seeking treatment. While waiting, the shooter wandered around the parking lot searching for unlocked vehicles. The shooter came across a vehicle, opened the door, and searched the vehicle, but was eventually confronted by the owners during the act.  The shooter did not yell, threaten, or physically contact the owners of the vehicle.  Rather, the shooter fled the vehicle taking a bag of prescription medications. The owners reported the incident to the health care institution.  Based on this report, the security officers did not believe the shooter was a threat to the public. Still, the security officer conducted two rounds of vehicular search around the parking lot but did not locate the shooter.

The shooter subsequently entered another unlocked car in the parking lot. That vehicle had a loaded pistol, with no safety, in its center console. The shooter remained in this car for about 50 minutes until Plaintiff exited the health care institution and discovered the shooter in his car. Plaintiff yelled at the shooter, and a brief struggle ensued wherein the shooter shot Plaintiff with Plaintiff ’s own pistol. Plaintiff survived.

Generally, a property owner owes no duty to its patrons to protect them against criminal acts of third persons.  However, Plaintiff alleged the health care institution breached its duty to provide a safe environment an exception to the general rule, referred to as the “Known Third Person” exception under Missouri law.  This exception establishes a duty on a property owner when it “knows or has reason to know” a specific third person is (1) on its premises and (2) dangerous.

At trial, the jury returned its verdict for Plaintiff awarding him $1.5 million. However, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the jury verdict. The Court’s analysis focused on whether, based on the prior report, the health care institution knew before Plaintiff was shot that the shooter was dangerous.

The Court determined the shooter did not act in a dangerous or threatening manner until after Plaintiff yelled at the shooter when he found her inside his car. Prior to the shooting, there was no evidence that the health care institution could have known the shooter would become violent. The shooter had not engaged in any verbal or physical altercations on the premises and there was no evidence she would likely use a gun prior to her use of Plaintiff’s unsecured and loaded pistol. The Court found the health care institution only knew the shooter had, without force, entered an unlocked vehicle prior to Plaintiff’s vehicle and fled when she was discovered. The Court emphasized that not every crime renders it reasonably foreseeable that a person is dangerous as contemplated by the “Known Third Person” exception.  Based on the facts of this case, the Court held the health care institution did not owe a duty to protect Plaintiff from the shooter.


Business owners can take comfort in knowing that they will likely not be held liable for the acts of a person on their property who had not shown any previous tendency to be violent or harm another guest of the business.  Business owners should properly investigate reports of persons who may be threatening, yelling, or becoming physical with another guest on business grounds and remove the threatening person. Ignoring reports like these could lead to potential litigation and liability. However, addressing potential situations immediately could prevent a situation from escalating and leading to a business being liable to a potentially injured person.