Duty of Care: Are Property Owners Liable for Crimes on Their Property?

Blog-Images-Robin-Frazer-Clark--1024x576When you go shopping, the last thing you want is for someone to run in and endanger everyone inside with a weapon. Similarly, if you’re sitting in your apartment, unwinding after work, you don’t want to have to worry about someone breaking into your car or through the front door. Becoming a victim of violent crime is never your fault, but based on some recent Georgia Supreme Court rulings, property owners may be liable for neglecting their duty of care. Premises liability regarding shootings and crime have become significant concerns in public and private settings, like apartments, malls, and parking lots. Under certain circumstances, if you’re harmed by violent crime in these places, you may be entitled to compensation. 

Duty of Care and Business Owner’s Responsibility

Business owners have a “duty of care” to provide a safe environment for their visitors and patrons. This duty typically means they need to maintain their property and keep things in a reasonably safe condition. Sometimes, particularly in “high crime” areas, that means taking precautions to prevent foreseeable crimes or harm. For example, a mall owes its patrons the greatest duty of care because they are inviting them in to shop and there is a reasonable expectation of safety when they arrive. Malls in areas that have experienced a significant number of crimes may have a duty of care to provide appropriate security measures to prevent harm.

The Role of Prior Crimes

In the event that there is a violent crime, it’s not always easy to assess premises liability. Typically, if there is evidence of prior crimes on the property or nearby, it could mean that the property owner is liable for not taking reasonable precautions to keep the premises safe. For example, an apartment complex may have a gate code, or security team. Property or business owners may be held accountable if they had knowledge of the criminal activity and failed to take appropriate action. 

To make a determination on property duty of care, the courts will consider things like how often crime occurs, the proximity to the property or business, and if the crimes were similar to the one the victim experienced in the personal injury claim. As an example, if items are stolen from unlocked cars, there isn’t an automatic assumption that there will be an escalation to violent crime. However, every case is different, and the specific individual circumstances will influence the outcome. 

How Far Does Duty of Care Extend?

As previously mentioned, specific circumstances can completely change the outcome of a case. Sometimes apartment complexes or businesses may not be held liable for things that happen in the parking lot. In other cases, some businesses may be held liable for damages that happen outside of their property. For example, there was a case involving the beating of a young man at a bus stop near a Six Flags theme park. The bus stop was just outside the front entrance, however, the perpetrators of the crime were park employees. This isn’t to say that every business is completely liable for the actions of their employees, but it raises some big questions. Was the Six Flags administration aware of this group of employees’ violent tendencies? Does the fact that Six Flags is a highly popular tourist spot make parkgoers more likely to be targeted for violent crime? Although the answers may not always be cut and dried, it just goes to show how many factors play into a court’s ruling. 

Getting Compensation

If you’re a survivor of violent crime, you may be aware that not all victims are taken seriously by law enforcement or by property owners. It’s important for you to know that it is never your fault. Whether you’ve taken safety measures yourself or not is not an indicator of your ability to “avoid” danger. Part of owning property or running a business means that they understand that there is inherent risk. It’s their duty to protect patrons and residents because they accepted that responsibility. 

If you or someone you know has been a victim of violent crime, especially due to the negligence of a property or business owner, you need aggressive counsel that will stand up for your rights. You may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Reach out to the office of Robin Frazer Clark, P.C. today for a free consultation by calling (404) 873.3700.

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