Victims of violent crime and those who love them want to see justice done. What they may not realize is a criminal courtroom isn’t the only place to find it. It can be pursued in civil court as well – and not just against the person who attacked them.
Negligent security is a reason to file a lawsuit in Georgia when you have suffered injury due to a criminal attack that might have been prevented had the property owner taken steps to ensure the site was reasonably safe.
O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1 states that when a landowner or occupier induces or leads others to the site for a lawful purpose, he or she is liable for damages to those injured by failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping the property and its approaches safe. Georgia allows crime victims to pursue claims against property owners and businesses for third-party criminal attacks when negligent security played a role in the circumstances that presented an opportunity for the crime to occur.
Key to proving these cases is establishing something called reasonable foreseeability. Property owners aren’t expected to be psychic, but where certain conditions exist, the landowner can be presumed to have reasonably foreseen the possibility of danger and the need to improve security.
Examples of Georgia Negligent Security Claims
Negligent security, also sometimes referred to as inadequate security, can take many forms. Some examples include:
- A shooting at a nightclub, both inside and outdoors in the parking lot;
- A stabbing while aboard public transportation;
- An attack in a parking garage or apartment complex;
- A sexual assault at a hotel, condominium, or apartment;
- A violent assault at a mall, concert, or other place of business.
Plaintiffs in each of these cases would need to show that the property owner failed to enact reasonable measures of security to keep visitors, customers, or tenants safe. Such measures might include:
- Motion sensor lighting;
- Adequate lighting in hallways, at entrances, in alleyways, and in parking lots;
- Video surveillance;
- Bouncers, prominent security guards, or police presence;
- Self-locking doors and card key access systems in hotels and apartments;
- A single source of entry into facilities like daycares;
- Resident- or visitor-only lobbies and/or elevators.
Georgia Negligent Security Lawsuits
Juries have awarded substantial damages to plaintiffs in Georgia negligent security lawsuits.
In 1995 for example, a grocery store was ordered to pay $800,000 to a patron who was in the unlit parking lot on a dark, rainy day when she was attacked, stabbed, beaten, robbed, kidnapped, and sexually assaulted. The Georgia Court of Appeals upheld that verdict in Piggly Wiggly Southern, Inc. v. Snowden after finding there was evidence of prior crimes (dozens of purse snatchings and frequent loiterers who harassed and occasionally threatened customers) that were sufficiently substantially similar (albeit less serious), making danger to patrons foreseeable. (Prior crimes do not need to be identical in order to be relevant to the question of foreseeable security.) The store had a responsibility to improve security measures to keep customers and employees safe – and didn’t. The defense argued the plaintiff was aware of the danger too. However, while she knew it was dark, the court pointed out there was no evidence she knew about the prior crimes committed in the parking lot.
In the more recent case of Martin v. Six Flags Over Georgia, jurors awarded $35 million to a man who was attacked by brass knuckle-wearing gang members at a bus stop just outside the park in 2007. The victim suffered debilitating permanent brain damage and other injuries. The trial court found the theme park was liable for breaching its duty to exercise ordinary care in keeping its premises safe for invitees. The defense had argued it wasn’t liable for injuries that occurred off site. However, the court ruled the park’s liability wasn’t extinguished just because the plaintiff stepped outside the property boundaries while trying to distance himself from his attackers. The gang members had accosted and threatened several families at the park yet were not ejected.
Further evidence in Martin showed the park was frequented by gang members, many employees themselves were gang members, and members of the park’s security team had recommended security be placed at the adjacent bus stop. Gang activity was reportedly a frequent discussion at daily security briefings, and there was at least one gang-related incident at the park every week. Park security team members testified the security department didn’t have adequate resources. There were too few security guards, equipment was outdated if not inoperable, and the park dedicated more resources to theft prevention than patron safety. The trial court deemed the park owner liable and the verdict was upheld by the Georgia Court of Appeals.
If you are injured in a criminal attack on someone else’s property, consult with an Atlanta personal injury lawyer to determine if you have a negligent security case.
The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation. For more information or to inquire about a free consultation, contact Stephen D. Apolinsky, an experienced Atlanta injury attorney, at Apolinsky & Associates at (404) 377-9191 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.