In general, a Georgia property owner, business owner, or landlord has a duty to keep their premises safe. If they fail in that duty, they may be financially responsible (liable) for injuries that occur on their property due to unsafe conditions. This is called premises liability.
This duty can also extend to protecting against the risk of injury from third-party criminal activity on the property. If adequate security measures would have prevented a criminal act, a property or business owner can be found negligent and held liable for injuries that resulted from the criminal act.
For example, if an assault in a mall parking lot or a hotel hallway could have been prevented by having better security in place, the business owner may be held responsible for the injuries resulting from the assault.
What is Negligent Security in Georgia?
While a Georgia property or business owner is generally required to keep their property safe, they are not automatically liable for all injuries that occur due to third-party criminal activity on their property.
In order to make a claim of negligence, the injured person must be able to demonstrate that:
- there was a legal duty to conform to a standard of conduct;
- this duty was breached;
- the breach caused the injury; and
- the injury caused damage
In a negligent security case, the criminal act must also have been "foreseeable" by the landowner or business owner.
Georgia courts have found that criminal acts are "foreseeable" in a variety of circumstances, including:
- "Substantially similar" crimes previously occurred on or near the premises. For example, a property owner was held liable for an assault that occurred on its property because they knew of previous burglaries in the building and did not implement adequate security measures to prevent additional break-ins.
- A "volatile situation" was brewing on the premises. For example, in Good Ol' Days Downtown, Inc. v. Yancey, a restaurant was found liable for injuries sustained when one of its patrons assaulted another. The assault was deemed foreseeable by the restaurant because the aggressor yelled at the other patron loudly for five minutes before the assault occurred.
- If the premises are located in a high crime area, a property owner may be expected to take additional security precautions.
Examples of Negligent Security
If a property owner, business owner or landlord has reason to anticipate criminal activity, they have "a duty to exercise ordinary care to guard against injury from dangerous characters" under Georgia law.
However, the standard of "ordinary care" is not specifically described and varies depending on the circumstances of a particular case. This can make it difficult to demonstrate that there has been a "breach of duty" in a negligent security case.
Examples of negligent security can include:
- Failure to keep fences, windows, doors, or gates in good repair
- Failure to provide adequate security guards or personnel to deter crime
- Inadequate hiring or training of security guards or other personnel to deter crime
- Inadequate security equipment, such as cameras or lighting
For a negligent security case to be successful, the person filing the lawsuit must also be able to demonstrate that the negligence caused their injury. For example, a restaurant owner might know the restaurant was located in a high crime area. If they did not provide adequate lighting in their parking lot and a violent assault occurred there, a jury could decide that the inadequate lighting caused the injury.
What is the "Duty" to Provide Security?
The duty to provide adequate security against criminal activity depends on a number of factors, including the location where the injury occurred and the relationship between the injured person and the allegedly negligent party.
The Role of Location in Negligent Security Cases
Georgia law (OCGA § 51-3-1) requires that property owners must keep their "premises and approaches" safe. This means that Georgia property owners can potentially be found liable for injuries that occur due to foreseeable third-party criminal activity on their premises.
In some situations, property owners may also be liable when these types of injuries occur near their premises.
In its 2017 Martin v. Six Flags Over Georgia decision, the Georgia Supreme Court found that "approaches" to a property include areas that are "directly contiguous, adjacent to, and touching" entryways to premises. In the Martin decision, the Court also found that Six Flags was liable for a violent assault that occurred outside its property line because the attack was planned and began on park property.
There are a number of exceptions to property owner and business owner liability. For example, if a landowner allows the public enter his or her property for recreational purposes and does not charge a fee to do so, the landowner's liability is limited.
The Role of Relationship in Negligent Security Cases
Georgia law also differentiates between the duty of care owed to invitees, licensees, and trespassers.
An invitee is someone who was invited onto the premises. Shops and shopping malls, amusement parks, gas stations, hospitals, and other businesses have "invited" their customers, patrons, or patients onto the premises. Tenants are also considered to be invitees of their landlords. According to Georgia law, every owner or occupier of land must exercise "ordinary care" to keep his or her premises safe for invitees. If the landowner fails to do so and injury results, he or she may be liable for damages. See Georgia Code (OCGA § 51-3-1).
Georgia law requires a lower standard of care for licensees (those that are on a property without the owner's invitation) and trespassers. In these situations, a property owner is only liable if "willful or wanton injury" occurs on their property. See Georgia Code (OCGA § 51-3-1 and 51-3-2).
Damages in Negligent Security Cases
The final requirement for a successful negligent security case in Georgia is demonstrating that the injury resulted in damages. Damages include things like medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. In most cases, Georgia does not cap the amount that may be recovered for these types of damages.
Punitive damages may also be awarded in some cases. Punitive damages are designed to punish a wrongdoer and discourage them from committing the same acts in the future. However, Georgia law limits punitive damages to $250,000 in most personal injury cases.
If you were injured due to criminal activity on someone else's property, an experienced injury attorney can make sure a negligent property owner or business owner is held responsible. We fight to get our clients the compensation they deserve for their injuries. Contact the Hadden Law Firm today.