A property owner who has notice of substantially similar prior crimes on his or her property may be held accountable in an Atlanta premises liability lawsuit. In a recent Georgia appellate decision, the court considered an appeal arising out of a car accident that occurred at a mall.
The plaintiffs, a mother and daughter, were driving into the mall when another driver’s SUV hit them. The daughter and the other driver got out of their cars and shouted at each other. The parties used profanities, but did not threaten each other. A mall security officer who was a retired policeman witnessed the fight. He noticed finger-pointing. He tried to ensure that everybody had calmed down and then asked the women to drive into an adjacent parking lot to settle the dispute.
When the officer was speaking with the other driver, the daughter walked over. She believed the situation was hostile, though she didn’t fear for her life. The officer finished talking to the other driver and told her she could go; she got into her vehicle to leave. Meanwhile, the officer began talking to the mother and daughter who were leaning on the back of the daughter’s vehicle. Suddenly, the other driver reversed at high speed and crushed the mother’s left leg.
An eyewitness testified later that she observed the women loudly arguing. She did not believe the officer had control over the fight. She heard the daughter scream when the other driver’s car reversed and hit a tree. The other driver was hysterical and crying and said she didn’t mean to do it.
The plaintiff sued not only the other driver, but also the mall and the security company, claiming negligent security, premises liability, and vicarious liability for the officer’s negligence. The mall asked for summary judgment on the grounds that the other driver’s act of driving into the mother wasn’t reasonably foreseeable. The plaintiffs argued that the other driver’s reversal into the mother was an act of road rage that was reasonably foreseeable, based on prior similar incidents at the mall.
The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment, but certified the order for review. The appellate court explained that a landowner or occupier must keep the property and approaches safe under O.C.G.A. section 51–3–1.
A property owner that has reason to anticipate a crime must use ordinary care to shield against visitor’s injury. However, a property owner cannot ensure the absolute safety of those it invites onto the property, and it is usually shielded from liability for third-party criminal acts, except where a criminal act was reasonably foreseeable. Additionally, property owners are not required to anticipate unusual or remote circumstances. In this case, the plaintiffs noted five prior incidents of road rage, but the appellate court reasoned that none of them were substantially similar to the plaintiff’s case. It found that nothing about the prior incidents would have made what happened foreseeable to the mall or the officer. It noted that the driver may have pointed her finger, but there was no proof she made threats against the mother or daughter. The lower court’s order denying summary judgment to the mall was reversed.
If you were harmed as a result of negligent security at a mall or other property around Atlanta, you may be able to pursue damages in a lawsuit. You should talk to a seasoned premises liability attorney as soon as feasible. Stephen M. Ozcomert has represented accident victims in Atlanta and throughout Georgia for more than two decades. Call us at (404) 370-1000 or complete our website form.