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7-Eleven employee’s murder not foreseeable, so no liability for lack of security guard

By Lorene D. Park, J.D.

7-Eleven, Inc., and its franchisee were not liable for failing to hire a security guard at a store from which an employee was leaving when he was murdered by either the suspect in a prior robbery he witnessed or by the suspect’s girlfriend. The employee was killed after his first day of testimony in the suspect’s trial, and his parents claimed the store owner and 7-Eleven were negligent in not providing protection. Affirming summary judgment for the defendants, the California appeals court in an unpublished opinion explained that the prior robbery was not enough to show that a premeditated murder was foreseeable (Bhandari v. 7-Eleven, Inc., January 9, 2018, Baker, L.).

Employee murdered. Employee Roshan Bhandari was held at gunpoint while working at 7-Eleven during a robbery. Bhandari testified at a preliminary hearing in the criminal case against the man charged with the robbery. On the night before his second day of testimony, Bhandari was shot and killed after leaving work in a parking lot behind the store.

Bhandari’s parents sued 7-Eleven and franchisee Daan & Daya, Inc. (D&D) for negligence claiming they failed to “provide adequate security for the [S]tore, including not providing a security guard,” despite knowing the store and its surrounding area had experienced multiple robberies and high crime in recent years.

Negligence suit. A California trial court granted summary judgment for defendants, finding that prior robberies of the store were “not ‘similar’ to a murder” and there was nothing to suggest anyone knew Bhandari was a target. Thus, it was not foreseeable that someone was going to murder Bhandari. The court also stated that even if defendants were determined to have a duty to provide security, plaintiffs had failed to adequately show the presence of a security guard would have prevented the murder. The court noted “the murder occurred not on the 7-Eleven premises but in the alley behind the store.”

On appeal, Bhandari’s parents argued that the defendants’ knowledge of the robberies preceding Bhandari’s murder and Bhandari’s role as a witness made his murder sufficiently foreseeable to create a duty to employ security guards.

Murder not foreseeable, no duty to hire guard. The trial court did not err in granting 7-Eleven and D&D summary judgement because the defendants had no duty to employ a security guard at the store, according to the court. To prove negligence, a plaintiff must show the defendant had a duty to use due care, breached that duty, and the breach was the proximate or legal cause of the resulting injury. Businesses have a duty to its patrons and tenants “to take reasonable steps to secure common areas [of the business] against foreseeable criminal acts of third parties that are likely to occur in the absence of such precautionary measures.”

The California Supreme Court has held that a high degree of foreseeability is required in order to find that a business owner’s duty of care includes the hiring of security guards, and that prior evidence of similar instances of crime is required. While there were robberies before Bhandari’s murder, there was no evidence that any employees were injured during those robberies, nor that three robberies over the course of five to six months was highly unusual for a 24-hour convenience store. The prior robberies were also not sufficiently similar to Bhandari’s premeditated murder for defendants to be charged with a duty to anticipate such a crime and employ security guards in the hope of averting it.

Even if the court presumed that the 7-Eleven store manager knew that Bhandari was going to testify at the robbery trial, that knowledge, without more, was not enough to establish foreseeability of Bhandari’s murder. Bhandari never expressed concern about his safety because of his involvement in the case. Nor was there evidence that the defendants were aware his killer was lying in wait or that Bhandari’s testimony would make him particularly susceptible to being murdered at the store.