I handle cases as a Smyrna premises liability lawyer, and I have been blogging
about lawsuits involving the liability of landlords and property owners
here in Georgia. Lawsuits over the liability of land owners or property
managers are called “premises liability” lawsuits, and an
entire body of Georgia law addresses when a property owner (or property
manager) is or is not liable to people who come onto the land.
I have been discussing a subset of Georgia premises liability law: the
question of when it is appropriate to hold a downtown Atlanta hotel held
liable for the rape of a guest, or to hold a Decatur restaurant liable
for a shooting in the parking lot, or to hold a Conyers bar liable if
one of its patrons is severely beaten in a bathroom inside the bar. Yesterday
I gave an overview of the rule in Georgia: if a landlord or property owner
had “reason to anticipate criminal acts, it has the duty to exercise
ordinary care to guard against injury caused by dangerous characters.”
Matt v. Days Inns of America, Inc., 212 Ga. App. 792, 794, 443 S.E.2d 290 (1994).
So when does a landlord have a duty to anticipate a criminal act? The Georgia
courts have held that whether the property owner could foresee a crime
depends on the facts involved in that particular case, and so it “is
generally ‘for a jury’s determination rather than summary
adjudication by the courts.’ Lay v. Munford, 235 Ga. 340, 341, 219
S.E.2d 416 (1975).”
Sturbridge Partners v. Walker, 267 Ga. 785, 786, 482 S.E.2d 339 (1997). See also Baker v. Simon Property
Group, Inc., 273 Ga.App. 406, 614 S.E.2d 793 (2005). “Our Supreme
Court has held that even “weak” evidence of foreseeability
is sufficient to give rise to a triable issue.” Westmoreland v.
Williams, 292 Ga. App. 359, 362 (Ga. Ct. App. 2008), citing Lau’s
Corp. at 493 (emphasis added).
In addition to deciding whether the
shooting outside a Buckhead bar was foreseeable, for example, the jury also should be put in charge of
deciding what would constitute “‘ordinary’ care on the
McNeal v. Days Inn of America, Inc., 230 Ga.App. 786, 498 S.E.2d 294, 98 FCDR 1084, cert. denied (1998). See
also Matt v. Days Inns of America, 212 Ga. App. 792, 443 S.E.2d 290, cert.
granted (1994) (“Issues of negligence . . . are for the jury, except
in plain and palpable cases in which reasonable minds cannot differ.”).
For example, one of the legal questions in a Smyrna apartment complex rape
lawsuit is whether the landlord’s negligence was a “proximate
cause” of the injuries to the tenant. The Georgia courts have said
that this question, too, should be resolved by a jury. “[I]t is
axiomatic that questions regarding proximate cause are ‘undeniably
a jury question’ and may only be determined by the courts ‘in
plain and undisputed cases.’ [Cit.]” Ontario Sewing Machine
Co. v. Smith, 275 Ga. 683, 687 (2) (572 SE2d 533) (2002).” Brookview
Holdings, LLC v. Suarez, 285 Ga. App. 90, 96 (Ga. Ct. App. 2007). See also
Millan v. Residence Inn by Marriott, Inc., 226 Ga.App. 826, 487 S.E.2d 431, 97 FCDR 2187, cert. denied (1997), summarizing
Bob v. Hardy, 222 Ga.App. 550, 555(6), 474 S.E.2d 658 (1996) (“Questions
of negligence and proximate cause are peculiarly questions for the jury
except in clear, plain, palpable and undisputed cases.”)