I am an attorney handling
Conyers lawsuits about lack of security, as well as similar suits throughout the state of Georgia. I have been
blogging about the Georgia law about when a landowner is liable for criminal
attacks that occur on his property. Speaking very generally, a landowner
is liable when it could have foreseen an attack, and did not take reasonable
precautions to prevent it. We also talked about the fact that attorneys
often choose to prove that the landlord could foresee the attack by showing
that other, similar incidents had occurred on or near the property. While
Georgia premises liability law does not require a plaintiff to show similar
incidents, in many instances attorneys elect to offer examples of these
Today I want to discuss what constitutes a “similar incident.”
In Georgia premises liability law, the Georgia courts have held that the
other crimes do not have to have been exactly the same as what happened
to the plaintiff, so long as the prior crimes were similar enough to what
happened to the plaintiff that they could have put the landowner on notice
of the potential for an attack.
For example, burglaries and robberies that cause no injuries can put a
defendant on notice of a brutal physical or sexual attack. See
Sturbridge Partners v. Walker, 267 Ga. 785, 786 (Ga. 1997); Bethany Group, LLC v. Grobman, 2012 Ga.
App. LEXIS 364, 5-7 (Ga. Ct. App. Mar. 29, 2012); Walker v. Aderhold Props.,
303 Ga. App. 710, 713 (Ga. Ct. App. 2010); Days Inns of Am. v. Matt, 265
Ga. 235, 235-236 (Ga. 1995). In fact, the Court of Appeals has said: “it
is improper for the trial court, by refusing to admit certain evidence,
to distinguish between criminal attacks involving brutal physical assault
and those which did not, for this incorrectly suggests the landlord could
lawfully be required to safeguard his tenants only from persons who commit
criminal acts without accompanying physical harm.”
McNeal v. Days Inn of Am., 230 Ga. App. 786, 787 (Ga. Ct. App. 1998).
No particular number of prior acts is required. In order to pass summary
judgment, the plaintiff does not have to show that a certain number of
prior acts occurred.
The McNeal case was a Rome, Georgia negligent security lawsuit. The plaintiff,
a man from Florida, had traveled to Rome, Georgia, for business. Roy David
McNeal checked into the Rome, Georgia Days Inn along with two coworkers,
and then the trio went to dinner at the Shoney’s restaurant next
door. As they walked back to the hotel, the man and his friends were attacked
by a group of four men. McNeal received serious and permanent injuries.
McNeal offered “evidence that several criminal acts had previously
occurred in this Days Inn parking lot and its other premises, including
the fact that several persons were arrested in the Days Inn parking lot
for engaging in a violent melee which began in a nearby housing project.”
Id. The court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to go to a jury:
[W]e do not judge these cases on the basis of mere numbers or severity
of prior criminal acts. What matters is the foreseeability of the potential
for a criminal act on the premises. . . . It is not required that the
same severity of criminal attack on a person must have previously occurred
in certain numbers, for the viability of the law rests on the premise
that there is a first time for everything.
McNeal v. Days Inn of America, Inc., 230 Ga.App. 786, 498 S.E.2d 294, cert.
denied (1998) (emphasis in original), quoting from
Walker v. St. Paul Apts., 227 Ga.App. 298, 300, 489 S.E.2d 317.
In other words, the landlord might be liable in the Rome, Georgia criminal
assault lawsuit because a number of other crimes had been happening in
its parking lot, even though those crimes had not yet led to violence.