On Tuesday the Mississippi House of Representatives passed the controversial HB 836, which drastically changes Mississippi’s premises liability law. The title of the bill says it all: “The Landowner Protection Act.” The bill does not protect only landowners. It also protects the operator of a store located on the land.

The bill’s purpose appears to be to protect businesses from liability to their customers for criminal acts at the business when the business knows that there is a dangerous or unsafe environment on the premises.  

Here is a fact pattern where a business would not be liable:

Gang of thieves operating in grocery store parking lot for months. Unknown to most of the stores customers, the thieves commit numerous robberies and assaults on the store’s customers over an extended period of time.

Sunday evening after church Mary Carter and her 12–year old daughter stop by the store after church service. Store management is aware that suspected gang members are in the store parking lot. The store does not warn Mary of the gang’s presence as she leaves the store. The gang kidnaps and rapes Mary and her daughter.

Mary and her daughter sue the store for failure to warn of the dangerous condition. The Circuit Court dismisses the case, citing the new Landowner Protection Act.

When asked for comment, the bill’s sponsor Representative Turner says that stores are not responsible for criminal conduct.

This is a change from the current law, where a business owner may be held liable if the criminal conduct is found to be foreseeable and the store’s negligence proximately causes injury to the customer. The Mississippi Supreme Court has reversed and rendered plaintiff verdicts in cases that failed to satisfy this burden, as it did in the well-known Lymas v. Double Quick case.

Under the new law, there is no liability when the conduct is foreseeable and the store’s negligence proximately causes injury to the customer. The bill also attempts to set the burden of proof and impose evidentiary restrictions.

I did not post about HB 836 when I first heard about it because I did not think there was any way that it could pass. For some reason, I thought that loser pays had a better chance of passing than this. Well, I was wrong.    

Be safe out there.