What You Need to Know About Filing a Negligent Security Claim
Premises liability cases typically involve a property owner’s legal responsibilities for injuries resulting from unsafe conditions on their property. Injuries may be caused by improperly stored equipment, inadequate lighting or maintenance, and animal attacks. For example, a dilapidated staircase or railing may cause a visitor to slip and fall resulting in injury. In the most extreme cases, dangerous property conditions may result in criminal proceedings.
Most property owners understand that they owe a duty of care to keep the individuals on their property safe. However, who is to blame if there is an assault or even a murder on the owner’s property? Can property owners be held liable for these third-party actions? Of course, property owners cannot predict the behavior of every individual that enters their property.
However, in Gwinnett County, property owners are required to take safety measures to reduce some of the risks of criminal behavior on their property.
We regularly fight for the rights of injured victims to seek the compensation they are entitled to. Our knowledgeable Gwinnett County personal injury attorneys understand how critical these cases can be. Contact us today for a free consultation.
Premises Liability Frequently Asked Questions FAQs
Georgia law often allows people who are hurt in accidents that occur on property owned by others to recover compensation for their losses. That said, premises liability can is a complicated area of law in Georgia, and how and where you are injured can have a significant impact on your case in Gwinnett County.
Despite some quirks in state law, the basics of premises liability in Georgia and Gwinnett County largely align with each other. As with premises liability claims in most other states—or any other allegations of negligence resulting in injuries—Georgia premises liability law requires there to be a duty of care on the part of the property owner toward the injured person, a breach of that duty of care, that the breach of that duty caused the injuries, and that there are damages.
This is the classic formula of a claim where negligence on the part of one person results in injury to another person. So how does this play out in Georgia and Gwinnett County? As previously stated, Georgia premises liability law is very similar to premises liability laws in other states with a few but important distinctions covered below.
What is premises liability?
Under Georgia law, premises liability applies where the owner or occupier of a property invites others (either by direct expression or through implication) onto the property for any lawful purpose. Having done so, the owner or occupier of the property is liable to those invitees for any injuries caused by a failure to exercise ordinary care to keep the property safe. This means that anyone inviting a person onto the property they own or occupy—whether through ownership, lease, or rental—has a duty of ordinary care to such a person to keep the property and approaches safe.
Does the duty of ordinary care apply to anyone who enters the property?
No. In Georgia, there are three categories of entrants to a property: invitee, licensee, and trespasser. Only an invitee is entitled to the duty of ordinary care. In the case of a business, for example, invitees include all of those who come to the business to engage in a business transaction – like a shopper. The shopper need not actually purchase anything to be an invitee. It is only necessary that the person was there with the intent to engage in a transaction with the business.
The duty of care owed to a licensee is less than ordinary care. A licensee is someone who is lawfully on the property but is not there for the implied invitation. For instance, a person who accompanies someone else who has come to shop at a business, but does not intend to also engage in a business transaction, is a licensee.
A Georgia case that involved a mother who accompanied her daughter to a job interview raised this distinction. The court held that the mother, who was injured on the premises, and was a licensee, because while the daughter was there at the invitation of the business, the mother was not. As a licensee, the property owner or occupier would only be liable to that person if they knew or should have known of the environmental condition that resulted in the injury would pose a reasonable threat to people on the premises, but took no action to either enact reasonable care to render the condition safe or to warn of the condition and the risk entailed. This standard imposes a considerably lower duty than ordinary care.
The lowest duty of care is owed to a trespasser, which is anyone who enters property owned or occupied by someone else, either intentionally or in error, without permission from the owner or occupier. Under such circumstances, the owner or occupier of the property owes a trespasser no duty to keep the property safe. The owner’s only duty to a trespasser is to not intentionally or wantonly cause injury to the trespasser, such as through the use of traps or shooting the trespasser. Taking those steps could involve an entirely different area of law.
Is premises liability limited to Atlanta businesses?
No. Any class of property owner—or the lessee of that property or another person in lawful possession of the property—can be liable for injuries occurring on the property, assuming the requirements of premises liability generally are met. Premises liability claims can be brought against homeowners, retailers, business owners, landlords, property managers—such as homeowners’ associations—or even government agencies that fail to keep their properties safe through their own negligence. If people invited onto the property, by implication or explicitly, are injured because of that negligence, then the entity that controls the property, owner or not, can be held liable for those injuries.
What accidents do premises liability law cover?
Premises liability is not limited to specific types of injuries. Property owners or lawful occupiers can be held liable for any kind of injuries that are caused by their failure to repair a condition or warn about an unsafe condition. This applies to any dangerous condition that arises or persists because of the owners’ negligence. Such hazardous conditions could be the result of poor maintenance, uncleaned spills that create dangerous walking conditions, building code violations, broken, or uneven sidewalks or steps that create a walking hazard, or any other unsafe condition resulting from negligence by the property owner or occupier.
If such conditions result in an injury of any kind, the entity responsible for maintaining the property can be held liable. Even a negligent failure to restrain or confine a dog that results in a dog bite injury can give rise to premises liability. It is not the type of injury, but whether the cause is negligence on the part of the owner or occupier of the property that gives rise to premises liability cases.
Perhaps the common injuries in premises liability cases result from falls, usually of the slip-and-fall variety caused by hazardous floor conditions. These conditions can include broken paving tiles, broken or uneven sidewalks or pathways, uneven steps or stairs, and foreign substances on walking surfaces. In Georgia, as with most jurisdictions, these cases fall into two categories: foreign substance accidents and static defect accidents.
Foreign substance accidents. For foreign substance slip-and-fall cases, the accident is caused by something on the floor that is not usually there, such as spilled liquid, grease, or some other substance that makes it hazardous to walk on the floor in that area. The entity responsible for maintaining the property must have had actual or constructive notice that the substance was on the floor, yet still failed to correct the problem or at least put up visible warnings about the problem.
Because the property owner or occupier has a duty of reasonable inspection for such hazards, constructive knowledge can be inferred if the substance was there long enough to be discovered by a reasonable inspection or if the owner or occupier received actual complaints but had not acted on them.
Having a reasonable inspection procedure in place is a defense—if the substance was spilled or dropped on the floor very soon after an inspection and the accident occurred before the next inspection would have revealed the problem, the property owner has a defense. However, if the inspection process is deemed by a court to be not reasonable—the period of time between inspections was too long, or proper procedure was not closely followed or followed at all—the defense can be overcome. Basically, a property owner cannot leave hazardous materials on the floor where people will be walking and not exercise care to clean up those hazards in a reasonable time frame.
Static defects. The other major category of slip-and-fall accidents is the static defect case. A static defect case could involve a pothole, broken paving tiles, uneven steps or curbs, or similar hazards on a walking surface that are more permanent in nature. Again, the property owner or occupier can be liable if he has actual or constructive knowledge of the defect. A structural defect that just occurred might not give rise to liability, but broken paving tiles that have been broken for weeks likely would.
Does premises liability include inadequate security?
A property owner or occupier can be liable for an assault if he or she fails to provide security adequate enough to keep the property safe from foreseeable criminal activity. This duty of care mirrors that in most premises liability cases, when the landlord owes a duty of ordinary care to invitees to guard against unsafe conditions. That duty doesn’t mean the landlord has to go to extraordinary means to prevent injury from unsafe conditions—or from criminal activity—but cannot fail to do so out of negligence. The landlord must make reasonable efforts to prevent foreseeable criminal activity.
Such cases will present questions regarding whether or not the measures taken are reasonable or the criminal activity is foreseeable. Liability for negligently inadequate security could apply on any property, including amusement parks, hotels, bars, restaurants, nightclubs, concert arenas, shopping centers, office buildings, sports venues, and even office buildings and subway stations.
Typical examples of negligent security include inadequate or non-functioning lighting, failing to respond to security warnings or alarms, failing to place surveillance cameras on the property, failing to increase security measures after repeated criminal activity, failing to warn visitors of foreseeable risks in regards to criminal activity, or, depending upon the kind of property involved, failing to provide security personnel on the premises.
That doesn’t mean that a property owner is liable for all criminal activity on the property. However, premises liability could apply if the landlord failed to take reasonable care to prevent foreseeable criminal activity.
Do I have a premises liability case against the owner of any property where I am injured in an accident?
Not necessarily. Under the Georgia Recreational Property Act, a landowner who opens up land to the public for recreational purposes owes no duty of care to maintain the premises in a safe condition, or even to warn of dangerous conditions for any structure, activity, or use on the premises by people who enter the property for recreational purposes.
This makes the landowner immune from suit by anyone injured on the property who entered the property to take part in recreational activities. The law includes parks, recreation centers, and athletic facilities. Under the law, this includes a non-exclusive list of activities, such as boating, swimming, fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, water skiing, winter sports, picnicking, and visiting historical, archeological, scenic, or scientific sites.
While the immunity is quite broad, it does not apply if the landowner or occupier charges an admission fee for the use of the property or facility. Additionally, if the owner or occupier willfully or maliciously does not warn about or guard against a dangerous condition, such as choosing not to erect barriers or signs, immunity from suit does not apply for injuries caused by that dangerous condition. The Georgia Recreational Property Act is a deviation from premises liability law in most states, in that it grants broad immunity to some property owners. The law is intended to encourage landowners to permit free recreational use of their property by the public.
Despite some defenses and exemptions not necessarily available in other states, if you are injured through the negligence of a property owner to keep the property safe, you may have a premises liability claim.
What Must the Injured Party Show?
Most premises liability cases require that the injured party prove that the fault of the property owner caused the injuries they sustained on their property. Property owners may be at fault when they provide inadequate security for visitors. To prove negligent security, an injured party must demonstrate:
- The negligence of the liable party caused the incident that resulted in the victim’s suffering. To show the element of negligence, injured parties may demonstrate that the property owner failed to take safety precautions to protect the injured party. The law requires property owners to take precautionary actions to protect visitors. Precautionary actions may include fixing broken locks or reporting suspicious activities to the police.
- The property owner knew of or should have been aware of the dangers or foreseeable risks of danger before the injury occurred. For example, similar crimes may have happened on the property before. If the owner knew of those prior incidents, then they are aware that those crimes may happen on the property again.
- In the same situation, a reasonably responsible individual would have acted differently to prevent the danger.
Proving these elements can create tremendous challenges, as the evidence is very fact-specific. In addition to showing that the crime was foreseeable, injured victims must also show they had a specific relationship with the property owner.
What is Involved With a Gwinnett County Negligent Security Claim?
Of course, it is impossible to prevent all incidents of criminal activity on public property. However, when property owners fail to take appropriate security measures, criminal behavior may be harder to detect, and, as a result, incidents may be more prevalent. Areas with inadequate or improperly maintained security measures may enable criminal activity that causes guests severe injuries.
Where Do Negligent Security Cases Occur?
Under Georgia law, the duty to provide reasonable care in protecting individuals from violent crimes typically falls on the commercial and business property owners. Public business owners “invite” customers and guests on to their property. As such, the owners have a duty to keep patrons supporting their businesses safe.
Some commercial properties that may be subject to negligent security claims include:
- Shopping Malls
- Public Transportation Areas
- Sporting Events
- Concert Venues
- Parking Garage
What Does It Mean When There Is a Lack of Adequate Security?
Generally, negligent security claims involve allegations that injuries resulted from inadequate security measures taken on the property. In other words, the injuries would have been prevented had the owner provided sufficient safety precautions.
These measures can vary depending on the particular property, but some common examples of inadequate security measures include:
- Inadequate lighting: A venue may be held liable for crimes committed on its property if it did not provide proper lighting on the premises. Owners are responsible for providing adequate lighting in the interior of the building, as well as the exterior, including parking lots. Proper lighting can be vital in preventing criminal activity because it limits a criminal’s ability to hide in areas where victims cannot see them.
- Inadequate security measures: Security cameras, intercom systems, metal detectors, fences, gates, door locks, and call boxes are imperative in preventing crimes. A property owner has a duty to maintain and repair any defective or inoperable security measures. If a property owner is aware of faulty security measures and fails to repair them, they can be held liable for any resulting crimes.
- Security guards/patrol: When a venue, club, or bar owner knows the audience or clients can get rowdy, they must hire enough security to protect customers. Property owners may bear liability for crimes if security personnel were inattentive, unqualified, poorly trained, or slow to respond, and harm resulted.
- Suspicious activity: If the property owner has received reports of dangerous activity or threatening people on their property, they have a duty to take action. They must keep their customers safe by contacting the police in a timely matter and addressing the risk.
- Building codes: Property owners are responsible for adhering to specific occupancy codes, capacity limits, local ordinances, and fire codes. When crimes result from the property owner failing to do so, the property owner can be held liable for the resulting injuries.
- Dangerous employees: A property manager is responsible for performing adequate pre-employment screening checks. Employers should conduct criminal background checks and investigate employees’ previous employment history. If the property manager fails to screen prospective employees, they can be held liable for the crimes those employees commit on the property.
Brauns Law Accident Injury Firm Can Help You
The crimes that result from negligent security practices can be brutal, and the ramifications on the victim can be disastrous. Many of these victims have to deal with significant physical injuries and extensive medical bills. In addition, the experiences are usually traumatic resulting in mental hardships that impact victims for years after the incident. However, injured victims should not feel powerless. If you or a loved one has been a victim of a crime due to a Gwinnett County property owner’s negligent security, the team at Brauns Law Accident Injury Firm can help.
We regularly fight for the rights of injured victims to seek the compensation they are entitled to. Our knowledgeable team understands how critical these cases can be. We strive to treat each of our clients with the respect and dedication they deserve.
If you are in the Gwinnett County area, call our office for a free consultation today. You can reach us at (404) 418-8244 or through our online contact form.