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As a lawyer, I handle Decatur premises liability lawsuits and negligent
security cases around the State of Georgia. I review negligent security
cases to see whether a viable lawsuit can be brought. In my prior blog
entries, I have talked about the Georgia law on premises liability, and
when a Georgia landowner or property manager may be liable for a criminal
attack that occurs on the property.

Essentially, whether I am reviewing an
Augusta restaurant criminal assault lawsuit or a downtown Atlanta hotel case, the question is the same: could the
landlord have foreseen that a crime might occur? If so, Georgia law says
that the landlord had to take reasonable measures to try to prevent a
criminal attack on its property.

In some of these cases, the landlord’s conduct was so bad that I
ask the court to award punitive damages to punish the owner’s conduct.
Most damages are awarded to compensate a plaintiff for a wrong done to
him. For example, the plaintiff may have incurred medical bills, and may
have missed work. The amounts the plaintiff has expended out of pocket,
or has missed putting into his pocket (like lost wages), are part of the
plaintiff’s personal damages.

The law does allow a court to award punitive damages in a Georgia premises
liability case. Unlike medical bills and lost wages, punitive damages
may be awarded in order to punish and deter conduct that our society finds
offensive. Under Georgia law, punitive damages are intended to demonstrate
in a memorable way that a defendant’s “actions showed . .
. that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious
indifference to consequences.”
O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(b). The idea, in other words, is to change conduct, not just of this defendant,
but others who may be what we call “similarly situated” to
this defendant.

In a premises liability case, for example, punitive damages might be awarded
when a landlord ignores clear signals that a criminal attack may occur,
or takes highly inadequate security measures.

For example, in
Fpi Atlanta, L.P. v. Seaton, 240 Ga. App. 880, 885-886 (Ga. Ct. App. 1999), two tenants sued the owner
and the property manager of the Timber Trace Apartments of Stone Mountain,
Georgia, in DeKalb County. The plaintiffs asked for punitive damages for
the failure to provide security at a Stone Mountain apartment complex.
The defendants asked the trial court to dismiss those claims on summary
judgment, but the trial court refused. The Georgia Court of Appeals agreed
with the trial court’s decision, finding that the question of punitive
damages should go to a jury.

In Fpi Atlanta, the plaintiffs were held at gunpoint by two men in a criminal
attack at the Stone Mountain apartment complex. One of the tenants was
the manager of a local Piccadilly Restaurant, and he was forced to go
back to the restaurant and open its safe. The two men took $10,000 from the safe.

The manager of the apartment complex originally had hired “off-duty
DeKalb County Police Department officers [to] provide security.”
However, “[i]n January 1990, the Fogelman defendants decided to
have only security patrols that merely exhibited a physical presence but
took no active security measures to protect tenants, even though there
was a high rate of violent crimes against persons and burglaries.”
Id. Thus, although the manager hired a security service to: “drive
through the apartment complex several times each night, check the landlord’s
locks, and report crimes or suspicious conduct”, the court concluded
that this patrol did not amount to a “real ‘security patrol.'”
Id. The court allowed the issue of punitive damages to go to the jury,
citing Carlock v. Kmart Corp., 227 Ga. App. 356, 358-360 (2) (489 S.E.2d
99) (1997); Doe v. Briargate Apts., supra at 411 (2); Read v. Benedict,
200 Ga. App. 4, 7 (2) (406 S.E.2d 488) (1991); and, generally, Colonial
Pipeline Co. v. Brown, 258 Ga. 115, 121-122 (4) (365 S.E.2d 827) (1988).
Id. at 886.


Lee’s peers have named her a Georgia SuperLawyer every year for two decades.