Customer assaults are not company liabilities, B.C. court rules

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Businesses do not have a duty to protect customers against the sudden, random, acts of violence from other customers, B.C.’s Supreme Court has ruled.

The July 19 decision, released July 31, came after an assault by one customer against another at a Vancouver London Drugs store, a situation dating back to 2003.

London Drugs
Guilhelm Vellut/Flickr

Musashi James Tanaka testified he was returning a product at the store when two customers behind him interrupted his conversation with a staff member, complaining he was taking too long.

When Tanaka said he would not be long, one of the two challenged him to a fight. When he declined, the man punched him in the left eye.

“The plaintiff says that when he was hit, he remembers everything going black and that he was unconscious for a few minutes,” Justice Karen Horsman said in her decision. Tanaka was taken to Vancouver General Hospital.

Staffer Marla Shewchuk testified she heard the Tanaka say “shut up” followed by profanity from the other man.

“Ms. Shewchuk immediately paged her supervisor. The man then suddenly punched the plaintiff,” Horsman wrote.

Both of the other people remain unidentified.

Horsman said video corroborates Tanaka and Shewchuk’s recollections.

The court heard evidence of London Drugs’ security and safety polices.

Horsman found the company’s steps to ensure the safety of its stores were reasonable.

“London Drugs was not under a duty to guard against the sudden, random, and apparently unprecedented act of violence by John Doe No. 1,” Horsman ruled. “There was no foreseeable risk that London Drugs customers might be the victim of unprovoked physical assaults by other London Drugs customers.”

Moreover, the judge said, there was nothing Shewchuk could have done to guard against an attack that, in Tanaka’s words “came out of nowhere.”

The action was brought as a negligence claim under B.C.’s Occupiers Liability Act (OLA)

“The OLA does not make London Drugs the insurer of every unfortunate event that occurs on London Drugs’ premises,” Horsman said. “The mere fact that the Assault occurred at a London Drugs store is insufficient to establish liability under the OLA.”