A New Jersey appeals court declined to recognize a claim against grocer Whole Foods for vandalism to a store employee’s car in the parking lot of its shopping center, even though the store told the employee specifically where to park.
A two-judge Appellate Division panel, reversing a Special Civil Part ruling below, said Whole Foods should not be held partially responsible for the damage caused to the car owned by its employee, Tanisha Lane, while she was at work.
“We are convinced that the trial court erred in concluding that Whole Foods had a duty to protect plaintiff’s vehicle from vandalism,” Appellate Division Judges Harry Carroll and Patrick DeAlmeida said in a July 10 per curiam decision.
“We agree with the holding in [Kandrac v. Marrazzo's Market (2012)] that, as a general rule, when a commercial tenant in a multi-tenant shopping center has no control or contractual obligation to maintain a parking lot shared with other tenants, the common law does not impose a duty upon the tenant to do so,” the panel said.
The common law, the judges added, does not require a tenant in a multi-tenant shopping center to maintain a parking lot.
Lane worked at the Whole Foods supermarket located in the Clark Commons shopping center in Clark, which has 28 tenants, according to the court.
Employees were told to not park near the store and were instead directed to park in a remote area away from the main commercial area, the court noted.
There was no security, the decision said, although the area was at times patrolled by local police.
The damage to Lane’s car occurred on Nov. 8, 2016, while she was at work. When she left work, she discovered that someone had stolen one of the side-view mirrors from her car, according to the decision.
Lane sued Whole Foods, Clark Commons and the company that Clark Commons contracted to maintain the premises, Silbert Realty and Management Co.
At a Special Civil Part trial in Union County Superior Court, a judge set damages at $1,001. The judge apportioned 70 percent of the fault to Silbert, meaning that it was responsible for $739; and 30 percent to Whole Foods, meaning that it was responsible for the remaining $316. The judge also awarded Lane minor costs.
Whole Foods appealed, and the appeals court ruled in the grocer’s favor, saying it had no duty to protect Lane’s car from vandalism.
“Whole Foods was not readily available to remedy known dangers in the area in which plaintiff’s vehicle was damaged,” the panel said. “Silbert had a contractual obligation and right to provide security in the parking lot at its discretion.
“It is unrealistic to conclude that Whole Foods could have provided security in the limited area of the lot to which it directed its employees,” the court said.
Neither Lane nor Silbert participated in the appeal, according to the decision.
Whole Foods’ attorney, Becky Caruso of the Florham Park office of Greenberg Traurig, declined to comment.