Chevron USA Inc. and one of its gasoline distributors will remain in a lawsuit by a St. Francisville man who was beaten unconscious by a convicted felon on Mother’s Day 2013 after he stopped for gas in a crime-ridden area of north Baton Rouge, a state judge decided Monday.
Chevron and Lard Oil Co. Inc. had asked District Judge Janice Clark to dismiss them from the suit filed by David Ray III and his family, arguing the criminal acts that occurred that night at Stadium Chevron on Scenic Highway at the foot of Plank Road were not reasonably foreseeable to either company.
Chad Sullivan, who represents the companies, told the judge the companies were not aware of crime statistics for that area.
But Clark, following a brief hearing, ruled from the bench that the state designated the 70805 ZIP code where the business is located as a high-crime area long before the incident involving Ray and his family.
If the judge’s decision stands, an East Baton Rouge Parish jury will get to decide if Chevron and Lard Oil are liable for injuries suffered by Ray, his wife and daughter, who was 14 years old at the time. Ray suffered a broken eye socket, broken nose and other injuries.
The Rays claim the gas station failed to provide security at night in a neighborhood long plagued by violent crime. They also accuse the station of being negligent in failing to warn customers of “the inherent dangers of patronizing” the facility.
Clark gave the companies five days to seek review of her ruling by a higher court.
Sullivan declined comment after the hearing on the judge’s ruling and whether the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal will be asked to review her decision.
Stadium Chevron, owner Melvin George and Donald Ray Dickerson, the felon who was found guilty in the 2014 beating of Ray, also are defendants in the suit. Dickerson, of Baton Rouge, is scheduled to be sentenced next month.
After the suit was filed, George said there is nothing he would have done differently in the way of security at Stadium Chevron.
The Ray family’s attorney, Michael Palmintier, argued in court Monday that Chevron and Lard Oil make a lot of money at the business. He also argued that the Chevron sign and brand attracts many customers to the station.
“This is an effort on the part of Chevron to wash its hands of responsibility,” Palmintier said.
He noted that the gas station’s doors are locked after a certain hour, as they were at the time of the incident, and patrons such as Ray had to pay a clerk who was behind bullet-proof glass.
Ray testified at Dickerson’s trial that Dickerson commented on the pink shirt Ray was wearing that night. He said Dickerson also told him he was in the “wrong neighborhood” and wouldn’t make it out. The incident was initially investigated as a possible hate crime because Dickerson is black and Ray is white. He was convicted as charged with a count of second-degree battery.
Stadium Chevron has been the site of two killings: one in 2002 and the other in 2006.
A wrongful death suit filed by the family of 25-year-old Christopher Hamlin following his September 2002 slaying at the gas station was later dismissed by Clark, and her ruling was affirmed by a panel of 1st Circuit judges.
The appellate court said business owners owe customers a reasonably safe place and must exercise “reasonable care” to protect them from harm from employees and third parties. The panel, however, found “there is generally no duty to protect others from the criminal acts of those parties.”
The 1st Circuit judges said the duty arises only when the criminal act in question was reasonably foreseeable to the owner of the business.