Who hasn't heard of a "Stop and Rob?" The phenomenon has become so common as to be axiomatic. And it is extremely dangerous. Convenience stores and other retail establishments that have cash on hand or customers in the parking lot will become targets for robbers, thieves and rapists, if security precautions are not in place.
Luckily, experts in the industry have identified simple policies and technologies that are proven effective for keeping their workers and customers protected. But if businesses will not put these policies and technologies into place, their workers and customers pay the price. By 2005, working in a New Mexico retail store was rated among the most dangerous jobs in the state.
While McGinn, Carpenter, Montoya & Love (MCML) has been handling negligent security cases for decades, we would prefer that no one be harmed in this way. We are passionate about holding retailers accountable for lax security that invites crime and violence.
Committed to reducing the injuries that result from crime in retail stores, the attorneys at MCML volunteered their time and resources in 2005-2006 to help pass a state regulation that now requires New Mexico convenience stores, among other important security precautions, to have at least two workers on staff during the graveyard shift.
Our lawyers further volunteered their time as Amicus Curiae (Friends of the Court) in defending the New Mexico Petroleum Association's (the organization for convenience store owners) attempt to invalidate this important safety regulation. We won. The regulation remains the law of New Mexico.
If you have been harmed by a business that was unwilling to put safety first by failing to address predictable dangers on their premises, please contact MCML. We would like to help you. Call our Albuquerque or Santa Fe office today at 505-633-8796 or email us directly to request a free consultation about your premises liability case.
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V.G. v. Allsup's Convenience Stores
For 20 years, while amassing a fortune for the company owners, buying race horses and living a lavish lifestyle, the Allsup's Convenience Store Corporation operated its string of convenience stores on a shoestring budget. For 20 years, the company owner would receive on his desk, on a nearly weekly basis, report after report of robberies and robbery attempts occurring in his stores.
Over the years, dozens of workers lost their lives, and another dozen were raped. At one time, the company owner was asked by the family of a dead worker who was killed on the graveyard shift, to please, in the future, always have two people working in the store. A few years later, the Chief of Police, concerned by the crime at these particular convenience stores (as opposed to other store chains), contacted management and warned them that if they didn't improve security, someone would be killed.
Despite its previous promises and the warning by the Chief of Police, the store chain continued to operate on a shoestring budget, which left workers with virtually no security – no cameras, no guards, no co-worker on the graveyard shift. Routinely, only half of the light bulbs in the parking lot were working.
When a young mother of three children took a night job at the store so she could study to be a teacher and take care of her kids during the day, she knew none of these things. On her third night working the graveyard shift, the store was targeted for robbery. The robber was disappointed when he netted less than $25 dollars, so he decided to take something else – the young woman. She was discovered the next afternoon, stabbed to death, in a field.
After her murder, the store chain was unwilling to assist the family beyond the meager compensation available through workers' compensation, even denying help with funeral expenses. Despite the challenges that attend bringing suit in court outside of the workers' compensation system, MCML proceeded with the case through a two-week trial and settled just before the jury was about to enter a $50 million verdict for the young woman's family. The memory of this wonderful mother and incredible family remains an inspiration to the lawyers of MCML to this day and always.
M.R. v. Sara Lee Corporation
When a 50-year-old woman working in a day-old bakery store asked her manager for temporary help to fill in for her co-worker's absence during a vacation, she was told that if she wasn't willing to work alone, her co-worker couldn't go on vacation. Unwilling to prevent her co-worker's vacation, M.R. worked alone in the store, which predictably – with cash on hand and only one worker that day – was targeted for robbery.
The unsophisticated 15-year-old robber who had never committed such an act later admitted that even the smallest amount of deterrence such as another worker, video cameras or even windows, would have deterred him from committing the crime. He had visited store the day before, and noticed the utter absence of security. He decided to go back to rob it the next day because his rent was due and he didn't have the money to pay it. The robbery didn't go as he planned and M.R. was beaten and terribly injured.
Workers' compensation was woefully insufficient to cover M.R.'s lifelong debilitating injuries that left her wheelchair bound. Suit against the parent corporation that had crafted the insufficient policies and skimmed all profits out of the store to build a monolithic corporate headquarters out of state resulted in a settlement to help take care of M.R.'s future needs.
Lawrence v. Hollywood Video Corp. and NM Dept. of Corrections, NM 2 d Jud. Dist. Ct., CV 96-04039.
When George and Pauline went to the video store where their grandson worked to pick him up after his late night shift, they had no idea that the store had been the target of crime and threats for months prior, or that the staff had been asking the company for security guards to protect them.
On this particular night, two felons on community release from the Department of Corrections had decided to take advantage of the large amounts of cash on hand at the end of the day. The felons stole the cash, killed three clerks inside, abducted the McDougalls from the parking lot and killed them in the East Mountains. The case against Hollywood Video Corp. settled and the firm was successful in defeating motions to dismiss filed by the state corrections department. Eventually, the state also settled with the McDougall family.
Eldridge v. Circle K Corp., 123 N.M. 145 (Ct. App. 1997).
New father Paul Sedillo was shot and killed while working alone on the graveyard shift at a Circle K convenience store with inadequate security. The New Mexico Court of Appeals held that his surviving daughter would be allowed to bring a claim for his death outside the Workers' Compensation Act in state district court.
The case settled for enough to take care of his daughter for the rest of her life. Paul's family later testified before the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board and helped establish state-wide regulations requiring convenience stores to enact numerous security measures, including having two clerks on the graveyard shift or placing lone clerks behind bulletproof enclosures.
Rummel v. Lexington Ins. Co., et al., 123 N.M. 752 (1997).
As a clerk for Circle K convenience store, Ken Rummel was required to work alone on the graveyard shift and confront and attempt to apprehend shoplifters. Three shoplifters beat him and kicked him in the face until he suffered extensive brain damage. After the jury gave Mr. Rummel a substantial verdict against Circle K, including punitive damages, this New Mexico Supreme Court case allowed us to pursue Circle K's insurance carriers for bad faith in failing to protect the company by paying a reasonable settlement offer before trial.
Steps Employers Can Take To Make Their Premises Safer
An assault in the workplace is any form of physical violence against an employee, whether by a colleague, manager, customer or patient. Workplace assaults can leave a victim not only with physical injuries, but also with shattered confidence and even psychological damage.
Some assaults at work are unpredictable events that could not be prevented; however, in certain cases there are measures that an employer should have taken to reduce the risk of harm to their employees. Of course, it is not possible for an employer to control the actions of every person who enters the workplace and prevent all assaults entirely, but they do have a responsibility to take measures to reduce the risks as far as possible.
Some steps employers can take to ensure employee safety:
- Risk assessments of employee and work environment
- Sufficient staff training (including in some circumstances training in control and restraint techniques)
- Safety build outs where appropriate (i.e., protective screens)
- Maintaining the correct staffing levels
- Safely, well-lit premises inside and out
- Security cameras prominent and monitoring entire premises
- Regular employee background checks
- Regular employee reviews
If you or a family member is a victim of workplace violence in New Mexico, our law firm will investigate the facts, get to the truth and see that justice is served. Contact MCML at 505-633-8796 to set up a free consultation.