Premises Liability Lawsuit in Third-Party Criminal Attack Hinges on Business Burden to Prevent Crime

Businesses that open their doors to customers have the highest responsibility to take reasonable measures to keep those guests safe from foreseeable injuries. Yes, that means making sure spills are cleaned promptly and staircases are well-lit so that guests don’t fall. But it also means making sure that measures are taken to minimize the risk of a criminal attack.parking lot

Although there is no universal definition of what this means, generally patrons can expect that parking lots will be well-lit, private rooms will have working locks, and security on site will be adequate, given the risk of crime for that business or in that area. Even though business owners don’t plan third-party criminal attacks, their inaction can leave patrons or visitors vulnerable to them, and in those cases, victims can seek compensation from the property owner through premises liability law.

In a recent case before the Texas Supreme Court, the plaintiff was assaulted and robbed in an apartment complex’s visitor parking. He filed a premises liability lawsuit against the apartment complex business and its owners, alleging it was known or should have been known that there was a high crime rate on the premises and in the surrounding area, and yet they failed to use ordinary care to make the complex safe.

According to court records, the plaintiff arrived at the site at around 2 a.m. to attend a party that was being hosted by a co-worker. He parked his vehicle in the visitor lot near the entrance of the complex. Although this was a gated community, the visitor lot was outside the gate and accessible to members of the public. While the plaintiff made a call from his vehicle, a car pulled up behind him and blocked him in. Two men approached him, and one pointed a shotgun through the plaintiff’s window and ordered him to exit. The plaintiff complied. When the men demanded he hand over his wallet and keys, he did so immediately. However, when the men ordered him to lie down, he hesitated for a moment. One of the men shot him in the knee, and he fell to the ground. The shooter then put the gun to the plaintiff’s head and pulled the trigger. However, the weapon didn’t fire. The plaintiff scrambled to crawl underneath a nearby vehicle, and the two suspects fled.

The plaintiff sued the complex, alleging there was a high rate of crime in the neighborhood and on site, and the defendants failed to use ordinary care in order to  make the complex safe.

At a two-day evidentiary hearing, expert witness testimony focused largely on whether this action was foreseeable. The trial court concluded ultimately that the defendants owed no duty of care to the plaintiff and issued a judgment in the defendants’ favor.

The appellate court justices reversed, finding there was evidence that there was an unreasonable risk of harm (i.e., violent criminal conduct) and that this risk was foreseeable. The appellate court based this conclusion on the factors laid out by the state high court in a previous 1998 case.

The defendant property owners sought review, arguing the appellate court failed to really consider whether there existed an unreasonable risk of harm because the factors laid out in the 1998 case dealt only with foreseeability.

The state high court granted review. Firstly, it noted that risks must be both foreseeable and unreasonable in order to impose a duty on a property owner in a premises liability lawsuit. The 1998 case factors, the court stated, focused almost exclusively on issues related to foreseeability (i.e., previous criminal conduct on the property, how recently that conduct occurred, how often it occurred, how similar the conduct was to the conduct at issue, what publicity was given to the previous occurrences, etc.). However, the court ruled that the application of these factors didn’t extend to issues of unreasonableness.

In this case, the plaintiff failed to present evidence that would indicate the risk of danger in that parking lot was unreasonable. Therefore, the court rendered a judgment in favor of the defendant apartment complex.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

UDR Texas Properties, L.P. v. Petrie, Jan. 27, 2017, Texas Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Parker v. Four Seasons Hotels – Punitive Damages Permitted in Hotel Shower Injury Lawsuit, Jan. 25, 2017, Asheville Property Liability Lawyer Blog

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