Fast Food Restaurant Owner Granted Summary Judgment After Criminal Attack on South Carolina Drive-Through Customer – Easterling v. Burger King Corporation

Those who own and operate places of business have a duty to keep their premises reasonably safe for customers and other business invitees. This includes the duty to protect guests from criminal activity in some situations. However, the burden is on the injured person to prove that the property owner acted negligently.

The issue in such cases is often whether the attack was reasonably foreseeable, given such factors as the location of the establishment and any history of violence in the area.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Easterling v. Burger King Corporation, the plaintiff was a man who was attacked while going through the drive-through at a fast food restaurant. According to the plaintiff, his assailant rammed his vehicle several times from behind and, when the plaintiff got out of his vehicle to investigate the damage, physically attacked him, knocked him unconscious, and bit his nose off.

The plaintiff filed suit in Charleston County Circuit Court, asserting a negligence claim against the fast food restaurant owner. The defendant denied any liability and, following discovery, moved for summary judgment on the basis that it owed no legal duty to the plaintiff. The trial court granted summary judgment in the restaurant owner’s favor, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

On appeal to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, the court affirmed. The plaintiff argued that the trial court had erred in failing to find that the restaurant owner had breached its duty to take reasonable action to protect him against a foreseeable risk of physical harm, that the restaurant owner had notice of and created an unreasonable and dangerous condition on its premises, and that the restaurant owner breached its duty of care by deviating from its own internal policies. The court rejected all of these arguments, finding no error in the trial court’s decision in the restaurant owner’s favor.

According to the court, the embankment complained of by the plaintiff was an open and obvious condition of which the restaurant owner owed no duty to warn the plaintiff, even though this allegedly resulted in the plaintiff being unable to exit the drive-through lane to get to safety during the attack. With regard to the plaintiff’s argument that the restaurant owner should have provided security personnel or implemented other security measures based on its knowledge of prior criminal incidents on the premises, the court rejected this argument on the basis that the previous incidents were mostly car accidents, disturbances, and theft.

The court also noted that the attack occurred very quickly and unexpectedly, thus rejecting the plaintiff’s argument that the restaurant owner’s employees should have done something to stop the attack once they had actual knowledge that it was in progress.

For Dependable Advice About a Possible Negligence Claim

If you have been hurt because of someone else’s negligence, you need legal advice that you can trust. At the Law Offices of Patrick E. Knie, an experienced personal injury attorney is here to assist injured people throughout South Carolina, including in Spartanburg and Greenville. Call us at (864) 582-5118 to set up a free, confidential consultation. Please note that personal injury claims are governed by a statute of limitations that restricts an injured person’s time for filing suit, so do not delay in seeking advice about your case.

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