One type of Atlanta premises liability case is the negligent security lawsuit. This is a case in which you can hold a property owner responsible for a third party’s attack on you when you are an invitee, and the property owner knew about prior criminal attacks yet didn’t take safety measures to protect you from attack. In a recent Georgia case, the plaintiff sued a company after he was injured through a third-party attack on the premises of the company’s parking lot, which leased tractor trailer spaces to his employer.
The plaintiff was a truck driver who parked in one of the leased spaces after dropping off a trailer and in order to meet a different driver, a coworker, who was carrying another trailer for him to fault. The premises had a parts shop and a fenced lot with lighting, security cameras, and controlled gate access. He fell asleep in the cab of the truck but was startled to wake up to someone at the window with a tool. He mistakenly believed the person at the window was his coworker and exited the truck. Another cab was parked too close, and so when he got out of his truck, he had to step onto the step of the other cab.
The man drove away with the plaintiff hanging to the side mirror of the cab. He fell off and was run over by the cab several times, and he suffered many injuries as a result. He sued the company that owned the lot. He argued that the reason his employer used the log was that it had better security than the prior lot they used.
An employee who served as manager of the lot was deposed said she got police reports when incidents happened there, and that the company tried to get surveillance footage when it was available. She testified that there might have been about 20 prior thefts in the lot. Another company witness testified at deposition that there were burglaries on the property and that they’d gotten security complaints.
Even so, the defendant’s motion for summary judgment was granted. The lower court explained in its order that the court found a lack of prior substantially similar crimes, and for that reason, there wasn’t foreseeability for the third party criminal attack that injured the plaintiff.
The plaintiff appealed. He argued case law wasn’t properly applied. He also argued the lower court had ignored evidence that the defendant knew about prior crimes in the parking lot and that the lower court had mistakenly weighed the evidence and made factual determinations, which wasn’t appropriate in a summary motion. He also argued the lower court had made a mistake in determining that his attack wasn’t foreseeable as a matter of law.
The appellate court reviewed the evidence and agreed with the plaintiff. It explained a landowner isn’t an insurer of an invitee’s safety. In most cases, a third party’s intervening criminal act shields a landowner from liability, except where it’s reasonably foreseeable. In order for a crime to be foreseeable, it needs to be substantially similar to prior criminal activities that happen on or near the premises so that a reasonable person would take ordinary measures to protect invitees from the risk presented by criminal activity. To decide substantial similarity, the court will look at the nature, extent, and location of the prior crimes and how alike they are to the crime at issue. The prior crime needs to be enough that a reasonable landowner would pay attention to the dangerous condition that caused the litigated incident.
In this case, the plaintiff put forward enough evidence that prevented summary judgment based on intervening criminal acts. The company’s representative admitted to knowing of property crimes, and many were perpetrated against trucks parked in rented spots. The appellate court found there was enough evidence, much of it admissions by the defendant, that the owners knew about property crimes on the property before, and therefore, were expected to guard against them.
If you were harmed on another party’s property in Atlanta, you should consult a seasoned Atlanta premises liability attorney. Stephen M. Ozcomert has more than two decades of experience representing injured people in Atlanta and throughout the state of Georgia. Call us at (404) 370-1000 to via our website.