You’ve come to the right place.
Latest News
Convenience Store Liability in Maine
Latest News

Convenience Store Liability in Maine

Click here to read the Full Article

“Poor Joshua!”
So Justice Blackman famously began the final paragraph of his dissent in DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189 (1989), a case where the Supreme Court held that a state actor has no affirmative duty to protect private citizens from violence.

There is a general rule in tort law that is much the same: in Maine, as in other states, “a party does not have an affirmative duty to aid or warn another person in peril unless the party created the danger or the two people had a special relationship that society recognizes as sufficient to create the duty.” Estate of Cilley v. Lane, 2009 ME 133, ¶ 17, 985 A.2d 481. Unlike the “general duty to provide reasonably safe premises, . . . the heightened duty . . . based on a special relationship” goes farther, requiring an establishment “to proactively prevent an assault on the guest if it is reasonably foreseeable.” Belyea v. Shiretown Motor Inn, 2010 ME 75, ¶ 11, 2 A.3d 276.

That begs the question, of course: What constitutes a “special relationship” that imposes an affirmative duty to protect another from violence perpetrated by a third party.
Maine has long followed the general rule that “[t]he law requires common carriers of passengers to do all that human care, vigilance and foresight can under the circumstances, considering the character and mode of conveyance, to prevent accident to passengers. To require anything less would be to leave the lives of persons in the hands of the reckless, and unprotected against the negligent and incautious.” Libby v. Maine C. R. Co., 85 Me. 34, 39 (1892).

Likewise, nearly a century after Libby, the Law Court endorsed the “prevailing doctrine” that “a proprietor of an inn, hotel, motel, restaurant, or similar establishment” has a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect its patrons from foreseeable violence. Brewer v. Roosevelt Motor Lodge, 295 A.2d 647, 651 (Me. 1972).

In 2010, the Law Court extended this affirmative duty to convenience stores. Kaechele v. Kenyon Oil Co., 2000 ME 39, 747 A.2d 167. In Kaechele, one patron was attacked by another patron in the convenience store parking lot. Just recently, Judge Levy reaffirmed Kaechele in a case of ours, in Castonguay v. Mac’s Convenience Stores, holding that “a special relationship does exist [between the proprietor of a convenience store and the store’s customers] if the proprietor has reason to anticipate that a patron will be assaulted and fails to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances to prevent the assault or interfere with it.” 1:21-cv-00083-JDL, 2022 U.S. Dist. Lexis 142137, at *6-7 (D. Me. Aug. 10, 2022).

Anyone who frequents convenience stores may think it odd to classify the relationship between a convenience store and its patrons as a “special relationship.” However, the courts have their reasons for placing this sort of heightened duty on convenience stores. There are few places in America more dangerous than 24-hour convenience stores. Studies have shown that convenience store employees suffer homicides at a remarkably high rate, and convenience stores—particularly those open 24 hours a day—are the sites of a wildly disproportionate share of robberies and violent crime.

In Maine, at least, convenience stores have a duty to protect their customers from foreseeable dangers of their customers. Hopefully, that makes it a little bit safer to buy a Big Gulp in our wonderful state.