Negligent Security – Why You’ll Need an Attorney Pt. 1

What is negligent security law and why do you need an experienced attorney to pursue your claim?

You may have heard of the phrase “negligent security,” but what does that really mean?  Under Georgia law, a property owner/manager is liable to a victim (or the family/representative of a victim) if a person commits a criminal act, such as an assault, shooting, rape or other act that causes physical harm to that victim that was “reasonably foreseeable” to the property owner/manager but the property owner/manager failed to provide adequate security measures on the property. The area of law which relates to these types of claims is referred to as “negligent security” law and is an offshoot of the more general category of “premises liability” law (think slip and fall or trip and fall cases).

 

But when is a criminal act considered “reasonably foreseeable”?  If, prior to the criminal act in question, the property owner/manager had knowledge (or should have had knowledge) of “substantially similar” criminal acts on its property (or surrounding properties), the criminal act will be considered to have been “reasonably foreseeable” to the property owner/manager.  Generally, courts will consider the five (5) year period before the incident in question when determining if there was enough prior crime to make the crime in question “reasonably foreseeable.” Here is a comparison of prior criminal acts on a property which would likely make a criminal act by a third-party “reasonably foreseeable” to the property owner/manager (and support a viable claim) versus those that would not:

 

Scenario 1:  Criminal Act WAS Reasonably ForeseeableScenario 2: Criminal Act WAS NOT Reasonably Foreseeable
 

Criminal act at issue:

 

Victim shot by unknown individual during an armed robbery in an apartment complex parking lot in May 2017.

 

Prior crime on property:

 

2013: Tenant robbed at gunpoint in parking lot of apartment complex

 

2014: Guest of tenant robbed at gunpoint in parking lot of apartment complex

 

2015: Guest of tenant shot by unknown individual in parking lot of apartment complex

 

2016: Tenant at a neighboring property robbed at gunpoint in parking lot and it is established that owner/manager knew or should have known about the robbery

 

 

Criminal act at issue:

 

Victim shot by unknown individual during an armed robbery in an apartment complex parking lot in May 2017.

 

Prior crime on property:

 

2011: Tenant robbed at gunpoint in parking lot of apartment complex

 

2014: Guest of tenant found littering in the parking lot of apartment complex

 

2015: Tenant’s car stolen from parking lot of apartment complex

 

2016: Tenant at property 2 miles away from apartment complex robbed at gunpoint but no evidence owner/manager knew or should have known about the robbery

 

In Scenario 1, there were 3 person-on-person violent crimes occurring on the property within 5 years of the criminal act at issue.  Further, there was another person-on-person violent crime at a neighboring property which the property owner/manager knew or should have known about.  A court would most likely find that the four crimes were “substantially similar” to the criminal act in question and sufficient to make the May 2017 shooting “reasonably foreseeable” to the property owner/manager, which would require the property owner/manager to provide reasonable security measures to address the crime.

 

By comparison, in Scenario 2, the one and only person-on-person violent crime on the property occurred more than 5 years before the crime at issue and would most likely be considered too far removed to make the criminal act at issue reasonably foreseeable.  The other two crimes occurring on property involved property damage offenses and would not be considered “substantially similar” to the at issue shooting. While the 2015 shooting would be considered “substantially similar” to the crime in question, a court would not consider it as part of its analysis due to the fact there is no indication the property owner/manager had or should have had knowledge of the incident.

 

These are two extreme scenarios falling on opposite sides of the spectrum.  Most scenarios fall in the vast gray area in the middle of the spectrum, and involve crimes or incidents that arguable should have made the criminal act at issue reasonably foreseeable to the property owner/manager.  An attorney who has experience in the field of negligent security will know how to work with local law enforcement to investigate prior crimes and locate prior crime victims who may have information that will be crucial in establishing that the crime at issue was “reasonably foreseeable.” Further, an experienced attorney will be able to dig deeper into the crimes on surrounding properties to determine whether the property owner “should have” had knowledge of certain incidents. But this is only the first hurdle in negligent security cases.  Even after a victim establishes the crime at issue was “reasonably foreseeable,” he/she still must prove that the security measures in place were inadequate or not reasonable. [See post, Preventing Unsafe Premises: Technology to Enhance Security]

We will continue Part 2 of this post next week.

*Part 2 has been uploaded. Read on here.