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Can A Property Owner Be Held Liable for a Crime Committed By Another Person?

In Georgia, a property or business owner can be held responsible for a crime that is committed by a third party criminal, if the crime was reasonably foreseeable.  Many cases involving violent crimes, such as assaults, rapes, or murders, occur on properties that are owned and operated by businesses that earn profits and have a duty to keep their patrons, tenants, and other visitors safe.  This duty of care is outlined under Georgia’s premises liability law, which states that a landowner or operator has the duty to exercise ordinary care to keep its premises safe for its invitees.

This legal language generally means that a property owner has to act in a way that a reasonable person in the same position would act to keep the property safe for people who are invited onto the property or otherwise allowed to be on the property.  The protection is not one that is all-encompassing, nor does it apply to people who are not supposed to be there.  Ordinarily, a criminal act by someone that has nothing to do with the property is considered an “intervening act” for which the property owner cannot be held liable.

However, many Georgia cases have allowed victims of crimes occurring on properties where the owners should have reasonably foreseen the occurrence of the crimes.  One way of showing foreseeability is using substantially similar previous criminal activities that occurred on or near the premises that would alert a reasonable person in the same position to take ordinary care to protect visitors and other people from the criminal activity.  That is not the only way to show foreseeability, but is one way to prove it.

By way of example, if multiples violent crimes, even if they were not the exact same crime, occur on an apartment complex’s property prior to a shooting death of a tenant, the prior violent crimes could show foreseeability.  Some of the steps that an apartment complex owner could take to protect its tenants and other visitors allowed the property include adequate lighting, fencing, working gates, security patrol, and warnings about the past crimes to the tenants and visitors.  If the apartment complex owner knew about previous violent crimes, but did nothing to protect the tenants and visitors, then, under Georgia’s negligent security laws, the victim’s family would be allowed to seek recovery against the apartment complex owner.

The apartment complex owner would defend the case by alleging that the crime was committed by a criminal over which it had no control.  Under the law of apportionment, a property owner defending a civil lawsuit for injuries could ask a jury to “apportion” fault to a criminal.  That is, a jury could assign fault to the criminal, even if s/he were not a party to the case.  But many Georgia courts and juries have rejected the argument that because a jury was allowed to apportion fault to the criminal that the property owner was off of the hook for keeping its premises safe.  Therefore, a property owner can be held liable in a civil suit for injuries stemming from a criminal act of another person completely unrelated to the property owner.

The law surrounding these types of cases are complex.  If you or a loved one has been a victim of a violent crime that could have been prevented if a property owner took simple safety measures to prevent the crime, the Davis Injury Firm is experienced with negligent security cases and offers no-obligation, free consultations with an attorney.  Call us today at (404) 593-2620 to schedule a phone call directly with an attorney.