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Property Manager’s Liability After Sexual Assault at Georgia Apartment Building

When a property owner in Atlanta has reason to foresee there will be an injury-producing crime against certain visitors on his or her property, that property owner may be held accountable for the damages arising out of that crime in an Atlanta premises liability claim. In a recent Georgia appellate case, the court considered the sexual assault of a 12-year-old in an apartment building. Her conservator sued the apartment’s management company for its negligence, as well as negligent security. The court denied the company’s motion for summary judgment. The company appealed.

The case arose at a 9-story apartment building that provided Section 8 housing. The defendant company had taken some steps towards security. Visitors needed to sign in and there was a list of visitors banned from the building. The residents needed key fobs to come into the building, and there were security cameras as well as a security guard. The police were called, and the perpetrator pled guilty to child molestation and rape. Additionally, the plaintiff filed a premises liability action based on the theory that the defendants had negligently failed to keep the apartment safe and to adequately protect invitees, as well as negligent security under OCGA section 51-3-1.

The defendants asked for summary judgment on the grounds that the perpetrator’s intervening criminal act wasn’t foreseeable because there wasn’t proof of prior substantially similar criminal acts on or near the apartment complex. The lower court heard oral arguments on motions. It denied the motion for summary judgment on the premises liability claim. It found there was a jury question on whether the defendants should’ve foreseen the particular risk presented by the perpetrator.

The appellate court explained that in this case, the jury would need to decide whether a perpetrator was a known security risk and whether he was banned from the apartment building, and whether the defendants had violated their own safety policies in a way that permitted him to perpetrate the child molestation and rape. The lower court had found there was proof submitted that the doors to the property were propped open, that homeless people found access into the building, and drug dealing.

The plaintiff filed a cross appeal regarding the lower court’s decision to deny her motion to compel discovery and for sanctions. The plaintiff argued that the lower court had denied her motion to compel without considering the substance because there was insufficient time to address it adequately. She also argued the lower court had made a mistake in requiring her to take depositions related to spoliation by a certain date about two years after suing. Five days after discovery closed, she’d moved to compel security patrol logs and notebooks.

On the motion, the lower court found the request for documents related to prior sexual assaults on every property managed, operated, or owned by the defendant in a five-year window was overly broad. It also noted that the issue was raised with trial only a few weeks away, and it was too late to bring the motion. The appellate court found it was an abuse of discretion for the lower court to deny the plaintiff’s motion to compel discovery without getting to the substance or deciding whether discovery procedures had been started right away and pursued without delay. The lower court’s reasoning that trial was only a few weeks away and there wouldn’t be time to address the issues thoughtfully wasn’t compelling. It vacated the order and sent the case back for further proceedings.

With regard to the summary judgment motion, the defendants argued the lower court had made a mistake in denying the motion. They argued they didn’t owe a duty to protect the victim from an unforeseeable assault.  They argued that the crimes that previously happened at the building weren’t substantially similar to this one, and the perpetrator hadn’t posed an obvious danger.

The appellate court explained that after the lower court reconsidered the denial of the motion for discovery, it might allow further discovery that could bolster the plaintiff’s case. The appellate court vacated the lower court’s order denying summary judgment and sent it back for further findings.

If you were injured on somebody else’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.

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