In Georgia, a landlord, property owner or business owner has a duty to exercise ordinary care in keeping their premises and approaches safe pursuant to statutory law. See O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1. If this duty is breached, the owner or landlord may be liable (and financially responsible) for injures that occur on the property due to the unsafe conditions, such as criminal conduct by a third-party.
Negligent security cases are a subset of premises liability. For example, if a sexual assault at an apartment complex or a shooting at a shopping mall could have been prevented by having better security in place, the property owner (and even the property manager) may be held financially responsible for the injuries resulting from the criminal act. However, the criminal act must be foreseeable to the property owner and such foreseeability can come from a property owner’s knowledge of prior substantially similar crimes committed on or near the property.
In Georgia, property owners have the right, if done so timely, to identify the criminal assailant on the jury verdict form and request that the jury apportion fault to the assailant. See O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33. This is done to decrease the owner’s liability and potentially diminish a Plaintiff’s claim if the jury were to apportion majority of the fault upon the assailant (whom you cannot likely collect from). There have been cases where a jury apportions only 1% of fault to the property owner with the remaining 99% being apportioned to the criminal assailant. Having a good strategy to combat apportionment issues will better assist you in preparation for discovery and trial.
Depending on the type of case, you should focus on developing the following pieces of evidence (not an exhaustive list) that will help you combat apportionment at trial:
- witnesses (or video evidence) to the subject crime;
- police records and reports identifying prior substantially similar crimes on or near the premises;
- other tenants who have knowledge of prior crimes and reported it to owner/management;
- tenants who have complaints about the property and have reported issues to the owner/management;
- a deposition of a 30(b)(6) corporate representative of the Defendant(s); and
- a qualified expert that can testify as to why there should have been additional security measures in place in order to prevent a foreseeable and yet otherwise preventable crime that caused your client injuries.
It takes proper planning and strategy to develop and discover key evidence to establish liability and diminish the Defense’s chances of successfully apportioning fault to the criminal assailant. For more information about these types of cases, contact Parker Miller or Donovan Potter, lawyers in our Atlanta office.