In some cases, property owners or managers may be held liable for third-party criminal attacks or crimes when there was a failure to provide adequate security. This is a form of premises liability law, sometimes referred to as “negligent security,” as recognized by courts in South Carolina.
However, as the recent South Carolina Court of Appeals case of Wright v. PRG Real Estate Mgt. Inc., establishing “duty of care” in these cases – an essential element of negligence – can be a challenge.
In tort law, a duty of care is a legal obligation imposed on a person or a company that requires adherence to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could result in foreseeable harm.
In the Wright case, plaintiff had leased an apartment from defendants for five years prior to the incident in question. The property had numerous public walking trails that wove throughout the community, with this and other properties being accessible via these trails. On the night in question, plaintiff parked her car and began walking to her apartment when she was accosted by two men. One held pointed a gun at her and both demanded money. She told them she had none.
The men then forced her at gunpoint to drive to numerous automatic teller machines (ATMs) to make withdrawals from her bank account. This went on for about 35 minutes, at which point them men then got out of the car and fled on foot.
Plaintiff called the police, and an investigation ensued, but the men were never caught.
Plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the property owners and management company for failure to protect its tenants form third-party crimes. Specifically, she alleged negligent security by way of:
- Failure to provide adequate lighting in common areas
- Failure to maintain overgrown shrubbery to an appropriate height
- Failure to execute the courtesy officer program in a reasonable way
Further, she alleged the property management company had committed unfair and deceptive trade practices by making statements regarding the security and safety of the complex when she filled out her application for rental.
Defendants moved for summary judgment, and it was granted by the trial court. She appealed, but the appellate court affirmed. Both courts found defendants owed no duty of care to plaintiff and further, there was no evidence defendants had engaged in unfair or deceptive acts.
Generally, residential landlords don’t owe a duty of care to protect against criminal actions of third parties (per the 1994 state supreme court decision in Cramer v. Balcor Prop. Mgt., Inc.) However, landlords and store owners do have a duty to protect those invited onto their premises from foreseeable criminal harm.
Here, the court rejected arguments by the plaintiff that this incident created that duty because of affirmative acts (landlord had installed some lighting and contracted with a security firm to provide random patrols), particular circumstances (that public could access the property from the walking trails created a foreseeable hazard) and the common areas exception (that there was a duty to maintain safety in common areas – i.e., the parking lot).
Although the outcome of this case was disappointing for plaintiff, these kinds of cases are not impossible to win. They are, however, challenging, and require the aid of an experienced premises liability attorney.
Contact our Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.
Wright v. PRG Real Estate Mgt. Inc., July 15, 2015, South Carolina Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Navarrette v. Meyer – Interfering With Driver May Be Liability Grounds, July 20, 2015, Asheville Personal Injury Attorney Blog