If you or your family member has been a victim of a criminal attack, such as a rape, shooting, or physical assault, while on commercial property, you may have a premises liability claim against the property owner for negligent or inadequate security. The types of commercial properties where this usually comes into play are: apartment complexes, shopping malls, grocery stores, hotels, parking decks, and schools. Businesses like these are required by Georgia law to keep their guests safe, and so they typically have large insurance policies that will cover failures to protect their guests from criminal attacks.
There are a number of complicated legal issues involved in this type of claim, which is why it is important to hire an experienced personal injury lawyer like Bethany Schneider of Schneider Injury Law.
In order to bring a successful negligent security case, you must prove:
In Georgia, the duty owed to visitors will depend on the legal status of the visitor. There are three main categories of legal status in Georgia: Invitees, Licensees, and Trespassers. A property owner owes a different legal duty to each classification of visitor.
Invitees – Have permission to be there and are providing some benefit to the owner, such as tenants of an apartment complex who pay rent to live there, or customers at a grocery store who are purchasing food. A property owner owes a duty to invitees to exercise reasonable care in keeping the premises safe. O.C.G.A. §51-3-1.
Licensees and Trespassers – When someone comes onto the property that is not conferring a benefit upon the owner or does not have permission to be on the property, a property owner owes the duty to refrain from intentionally or recklessly causing them harm.
If a property owner provides some type of security on its premises, a duty automatically arises to provide such security in a reasonably adequate manner. If security is provided in a manner that is not reasonable under the circumstances, then an owner may be liable for injuries even to licensees and trespassers. An example may be that an apartment complex hired a security guard who raped a tenant’s visitor. While the visitor was not necessarily an invitee, the apartment complex negligently performed its duty to provide adequate security.
In Georgia, property owners are only required to protect against criminal acts that are “reasonably foreseeable.” If “the proprietor has reason to anticipate a criminal act, he or she then has a duty to exercise ordinary care to guard against injury from dangerous characters.” Days Inn of America v. Matt, 265 Ga. 235 (1995).
Georgia courts have found that criminal acts are foreseeable if prior “substantially similar” crimes occurred on or around the premises. For example, if an apartment complex is aware that shootings and gang activity were a problem in the area but did not put any security measures in place to protect its tenants, then a shooting victim could argue that the crime was foreseeable.
Courts analyze a number of factors to determine “substantial similarity,” including the location, nature, and extent of prior criminal activities, and their relationship to the current crime. Keep in mind though, “similar” does not mean “identical.” Even a prior crime that is not exactly like the one you were a victim of could be enough to put the owner on notice that (better) security was required.
Similarly, where a business owner operates a business located in a high crime area, this alone could require additional steps to be taken in providing security.
If there have been prior criminal acts or if the owner had some reason to know that a criminal act was likely to occur on the premises, the owner should have made sure to put security measures in place to protect people from becoming crime victims. Some examples of inadequate security measures are:
No. While it is very important to contact a lawyer immediately after the criminal attack in order to preserve the evidence and protect your rights by conducting an early investigation of the crime, there is no requirement that the actual criminal has to be known or found in order to bring a claim against the owner. A lot of cases involve “John Doe” criminals. If you hire Schneider Injury Law early on in your case, then we will work closely with law enforcement and our own private investigators to try to ensure that everything possible is done to bring the criminal to justice, while also pursuing your rights against the property owner.
When a case involves a criminal attack, your deadline to file your case is extended until the criminal is prosecuted or six years, whichever is earlier. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99, provides as follows: “The running of the period of limitations with respect to any cause of action in tort that may be brought by the victim of an alleged crime which arises out of the facts and circumstances relating to the commission of such alleged crime committed in this state shall be tolled from the date of the commission of the alleged crime or the act giving rise to such action in tort until the prosecution of such crime or act has become final or otherwise terminated, provided that such time does not exceed six years . . . .” However, as said above, it is always best to contact a lawyer as soon as possible to make sure evidence and your rights are preserved.
Every case is different. Under Georgia law, you may be entitled to recover for medical bills, lost wages, your physical and mental pain and suffering, and the trauma you’ve experienced. It will also depend on the amount of insurance the property owner has.
If you or your family member has been the victim of a crime on commercial property, an experienced personal injury attorney like Bethany Schneider of Schneider Injury Law can evaluate your claim and can help pursue justice against negligent property owners for failing to protect you. For a free case consultation, please call Schneider Injury Law at (404) 800-3060 or email Bethany directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Schneider Injury Law has the experience you need and deserve for your negligent security case.