When a criminal wanders on to someone’s property, and attacks somebody,
is the person who owns the property liable to the person who got hurt?
At first blush, you might answer that question: No! Why should the property
owner be liable for what a criminal did? But if you consider the issue,
you will understand why Georgia law says that sometimes the property owner
will be liable.
Let’s take a really absurd example to start off. I am an Atlanta
and Forest Park premises liability lawyer now, but of course I started
off as a law student. Law students are taught to analyze legal situations
by “hypotheticals” – which means, by thinking of sometimes
absurd scenarios that push an idea to the furthest extreme. When you push
an idea all the way to the edge, it helps you see the weaknesses in a
legal position so that you can make a thoughtful analysis of what the
law should be. Naturally most situations will not be that extreme, but
the principles you pull out will help you figure out the right answer
in a more normal situation.
Let’s say that a restaurant is located in a dangerous area of town.
For the last 25 days, the first two people to walk out after 10:00 p.m.
have been shot as they walked to their cars. Two men stop by one afternoon
and tell the owner that they are the ones who have been shooting people,
and that they plan to be there tonight, and that once again they intend
to shoot the first two people who walk out after 10 p.m. That evening
a young couple comes into the restaurant. They get up to leave about 9:30,
and the restaurant owner comes rushing over and says, “Please, stay!
I will give you free drinks!” He gives them free drinks right up
until 10:01, when he says, “We’re closing! Get out now!”,
and pushes the two out the door. The two men who had stopped by earlier
in the day step out from the shadows, and shoot the young man and woman,
rendering both quadriplegics.
When you first read that under Georgia premises liability law the owner
of the property might be held liable for a Decatur personal injury caused
by a crime, perhaps you thought that seemed unfair to the owner. But this
case seems different. Why? The difference is that the young couple had
no idea of the dangerous situation, but the restaurant owner knew that
the pair was walking into a dangerous situation, and did nothing to warn
them or help them.
Georgia law is set up to address that very difference that you saw. In
Georgia, property owners are not normally liable for criminal acts by
third parties, but — if a property owner has “‘reason
to anticipate a criminal act, [he] then ha[s] a “duty to exercise
ordinary care to guard against injury from dangerous characters.”
Atlantic C.L.R. Co. v. Godard, 211 Ga. 373, 377, 86 S.E.2d 311 (1955).’
Lau’s Corp. v. Haskins, 261 Ga. 491, 492(1), 405 S.E.2d 474 (1991); see alsoSturbridge Partners v. Walker, 267 Ga. 785, 786, 482 S.E.2d 339 (1997).” Wade v. Findlay Management,
Inc., 253 Ga.App. 688, 560 S.E.2d 283 (2002).
write this blog as someone who handles lawsuits as a
Marietta personal injury lawyer, and I will be talking more about Georgia premises liability law in my
next several blog posts.