I have been blogging about Georgia premises liability law and the rules
about when a landlord, or a property owner, is liable for a crime committed
by a third party. In my prior blog posts, I covered the general rule in
Georgia, which is that a property owner may be liable for failing to protect
people on its property if the property owner had reason to believe a crime
might occur. To read more about when a landlord is held liable for a crime
occurring on its property, please take a look at my May 8, 2012, blog past,
A Georgia Property Owner Must Protect Guests from Crimes It Can Anticipate.
In today’s post, I want to talk more about how the victim of a crime
proves that the landlord could have foreseen the crime. For example, I
might represent a woman raped in a Roswell apartment complex rape lawsuit.
What are the ways she could prove her case?
One of the ways plaintiffs can prove that the crime was foreseeable to
the property manager or owner is by showing that other similar crimes
had occurred on the property, so that the landlord had reason to believe
more might occur. Sometimes a lawyer defending a
Buckhead bar shooting lawsuit might argue that the person who was shot must show other similar incidents
occurred, but that is not the Georgia negligent security law (or, Georgia
premises liability law, as lawyers often call it).
When it comes to safeguarding guests, the courts have ruled that owners
do not get “one free bite”:
[A] showing of prior similar incidents on a proprietor’s premises
is not always required to establish that a danger was reasonably foreseeable.
“An absolute requirement of this nature would create the equivalent
of a ‘one free bite rule’ for premises liability, even if
the [proprietor] otherwise knew that the danger existed.”
Shoney’s, Inc., v. Hudson, 218 Ga.App. 171, 173-174, 460 S.E.2d 809,
cert. denied (1995) (summary judgment denied where it was common knowledge
that the restaurant was in the highest crime area of any of Shoney’s
Savannah restaurants, and upper level management had acknowledged that
there was a potential for attacks on customers in the parking lot), quoting
Wallace v. Boys Club of Albany, 211 Ga.App. 534, 536 n.2, 439 S.E.2d 746
(1993). See also
Wade v. Findlay Management, Inc., 253 Ga.App. 688, 560 S.E.2d 283 (2002) (quoting Shoney’s);
Matt v. Days Inns of America, 212 Ga. App. 792, 443 S.E.2d 290, cert. granted (1994) (“The test
proposed by the dissent, however, is in application a “free bite”
analysis that is not supported by Savannah College of Art or any other
precedent in this state.”)
The Court of Appeals has stated:
As Justice Sears noted in her concurrence in Sun Trust Banks v. Killebrew,
266 Ga. 109, 110, 464 S.E.2d 207 (1995),
neither this Court nor the Court of Appeals has specifically held that
knowledge of an unreasonable risk of criminal activity can only be created
by the prior, actual occurrence of a crime. Instead, both this Court and
the Court of Appeals have stated that knowledge of the unreasonable risk
of criminal activity “may ” be proven by prior similar incidents.
(Sears, J., concurring).
Woodall v. Rivermont Apartments Ltd. Partnership, 239 Ga.App. 36, 520 S.E.2d 741, 744-745 (1999). In the same concurring
opinion that the Woodall court was citing, Justice Sears went on to write:
“Stated differently, foreseeability should not depend upon the fortuity
of a prior crime when the potential for criminal activity is apparent
to everyone.” She point out that courts should not make a rigid
rule that would apply to every case, because “[r]equiring a prior
similar incident in such cases would lead to arbitrary results, and would
engage the courts in the mechanistic, unreasoned application of rules,
requiring us to turn a blind eye to the simple reality that some business
owners may reasonably anticipate criminal activity even if no prior crimes
SunTrust Banks, Inc. v. Killebrew, 266 Ga. 109, 464 S.E.2d 207 (1995) (concurring opinion by Sears).
The Woodall court also cited to another Supreme Court case,
Lau’s Corp. v. Haskins, 261 Ga. 491, 493(1), 405 S.E.2d 474 (1991), noting that in that case
“the Supreme Court held that an issue of fact regarding the proprietor’s
duty was created by, among other things, evidence that the premises were
in a ‘high crime’ area.” Id.