Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Tops Market Not to Blame for Parking Lot Death

(CN) - The mother of a man found dead in a parking lot cannot sue the grocery store whose employees didn't get him medical help, the New York Court of Appeals ruled.

Joel States, 33, had been drinking alcohol and taking drugs with several friends in Elmira, N.Y., when he passed out and seemed to have trouble breathing around 1 a.m. on Jan. 20, 2013, according to court records.

States' companions then put him in his car and drove it to the parking lot of Tops Market, a grocery store on the city's south side, records show.

Though the group reportedly told Tops employees at about 1:30 a.m. that an unconscious person in need of emergency medical care was in the parking lot, but his friends did not call 9-1-1.

In fact, the group walked away, while the Tops employees allegedly did nothing for States.

"Six people and not a damn one of them ever picked up a phone and called 9-1-1," States' mother and administrator of his estate, Debra Daily, told NBC affiliate WETM.

"How sick is this? Who would do that?" Daily reportedly added, later calling those who failed to help her son "worse than slugs underneath your feet."

Police arrived at the scene around 9 a.m. that morning, according to local news station WENY. They reportedly found States' corpse slumped over in the passenger seat of his car.

States died of heroin and alcohol intoxication and hypothermia, Daily claims.

The Chemung County District Attorney's Office confirmed that States' death was a homicide in August 2013, according to news radio station WEBO.

A grand jury decided on March 7, 2014, that no one will be charged in States' death, WETM reported.

Daily, in turn, sued States' friends and Tops for negligence in New York state court.

The state's high court dismissed the complaint against Tops for failure to state a claim on April 14, 2014.

Daily appealed, but the state appeals court upheld the order Thursday.

"Consonant with the premise that a moral duty does not equate with a legal duty, it is the general rule that 'one does not owe a duty to come to the aid of a person in peril,'" Judge John Lahtinen, a Republican appointed in 2000, wrote for a three-judge panel.

Though exceptions to that rule exist, none apply to States' death, the 3-page ruling states.

"Here, although Tops was open to shoppers, this did not necessarily create an affirmative duty to come to the aid of anyone who was anywhere on its property no matter how unrelated such person's presence was to Tops' function as a grocery store," Lahtinen wrote.

The judge noted that neither States nor his companions were Tops customers and it is not alleged that grocery store employees saw or had any contact with States.

"Under such circumstances, we agree with Supreme Court that, notwithstanding a moral obligation, Tops was not under an affirmative legal duty to assist decedent," Lahtinen wrote. "The remaining arguments are unavailing."

Daily and Tops did not immediately respond to requests for comment emailed Friday.

Located about 33 miles southwest of Ithaca, N.Y., near the Pennsylvania border, Elmira has an estimated population of over 28,000. It is 78 percent white and has a median household income of more than $29,000, according to census data.

Tops Markets is headquartered in Williamsville, N.Y., and reaped $2.5 billion in revenue last year at its 167 supermarkets in New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont, according to Forbes.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.