A divided appeals court Wednesday rejected a lawsuit against the city of DeFuniak Springs over the murder of a restaurant employee who received assurances that police would conduct security checks after she felt threatened by a co-worker.
A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, upheld a Walton County circuit judge’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the estate of Sandra Graves, who was murdered in June 2017.
The panel’s majority, made up of Judges Brad Thomas and Rachel Nordby, did not explain its decision. But Judge Scott Makar dissented, writing that the dismissal should have been overturned.
Makar wrote that Graves and Stephen Taylor were employees at a Beef ‘O’ Brady’s restaurant, when Graves felt threatened by Taylor.
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Police said they would escort Graves home after work, perform security checks at her home and issue a trespass warning against Taylor, according to Makar’s dissent. The lawsuit alleged that the police did not follow through and that Taylor murdered Graves in her home.
Makar wrote that the allegations were sufficient, under a legal concept known as the “undertaker doctrine,” to allow the lawsuit to move forward.
“The doctrine regards the potential tort liability of persons or entities that agree to assume or accept (i.e., undertake) a duty to provide services for the protection of another, but fail to exercise reasonable care in doing so,” Makar wrote. He added, “Here, there was a known, identifiable danger, along with failed promises to escort Graves home, provide safety checks to her, and to issue a trespass notice against Taylor, which fall squarely within the case law.”