by: Patrick A. Randolph, Jr.
Professor of Law
UMKC School of Law
LANDLORD/TENANT; LANDLORD'S LIABILITY; CRIMINAL ACTS: Two Georgia Appeals landlord liability cases are contradictory on whether evidence of prior crimes against property creates a factual issue as to the foreseeability of third party criminal acts.
(1) Walker v. Sturbridge Partners, Ltd., 470 S.E.2d 738 (Ga. App. 1996). Held: Evidence of three daytime thefts from apartments in the same apartment complex was sufficient to raise factual issue as to whether landlord should have foreseen a sexual assault of a tenant which occurred in her apartment at night. The Georgia Court of Appeals heard this case in March, 1996, and held This decision, if it stands, overrules prior case law, however, it is directly contradicted by the decision below.
(2) Doe v. Prudential-Bache/A.G. Spanos Realty Partners, 474 S.E.2d 31 (Ga. App. 1996). Held: Crimes against a person were not, as a matter of law foreseeable, where the only evidence of prior crimes pertained to nine thefts and three acts of vandalism in five months in the same garage where plaintiff thereafter was sexually assaulted. The Court's holding in this case affirms the previous distinction in other Georgia holdings between crimes against property and crimes against persons.. This decision, if it stands, would overrules the decision of the Appeals Court made in March in Walker v. Sturbridge Partners, Ltd., 470 S.E.2d 738 (Ga. App. 1996), discussed in this Report under the same heading.
Comment: A recent ABA publication, Alan Kaminsky, A Complete Guide to Premises Security Litigation, ABA Press 1995, does a state-by-state survey of cases involving premises liability for criminal attacks. The author has a pro-plaintiff bias, but the collection nevertheless is valuable for the collection of cases and the analysis and comparison of the various theories. A brief review of the state-by-state analysis indicates that a number of states, taking the "totality of the circumstances" approach, would not require evidence of prior criminal acts at all. Most of those that do require such evidence, however, likely would require evidence of criminal attacks of a violent nature in order to advance the argument that the landlord had a duty to foresee and protect against physical atacks.
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