By Robert Steeg
The following article “Are Your Clients Exposed to Premises Liability for Third-Party Criminal Acts? A Top-10 List to Reduce Risks” by Norman W. Gutmacher appeared in Probate & Property Magazine and is a must-read for property owners, managers and landlords. It highlights an important issue for anyone who owns, manages or leases out real estate – the potential liability for attacks on customers or occupants while on or near the premises.
Although this article was written for a national publication and used common-law terms, with just a few changes in terminology it applies fully to Louisiana properties.
A property owner/manager/landlord must have in place security measures that are reasonable in light of the risks of the property’s location and past crime experience. One is strongly advised to document all measures taken and all reported incidents on the property. One is strongly advised to keep up with technological advances and to keep the property’s tenants and users informed of events in the neighborhood and of the security measures that are in place on the property.
As crime increases, those who are hurt by it will look to the “deep pockets” for compensation, and a property owner/manager/landlord needs to stay on top of this issue to avoid liability in case of an incident on or near his or her property.
Are Your Clients Exposed to Premises Liability for Third-Party Criminal Acts? A Top-10 List to Reduce Risks
by Norman W. Gutmacher
Probate & Property Magazine
On an ever more frequent basis, injured employees, customers, and invitees are suing property owners, and tenants (referred to in this article together as “Deep Pockets”) for injuries arising out of criminal acts on the property in question (sometimes referred to as “premises liability”) committed against them by unknown third parties. What appears to have started with a relatively isolated Washington, D.C., case in the 1970s is now occurring regularly. See Kline v. 1500 Massachusetts Ave. Apartment Corp., 439 F.2d 477 (D.C. Cir. 1970) (in action by an apartment building tenant assaulted and robbed in a common area, finding the landlord liable on the basis that the landlord knew of an increase in criminal activity on the premises). Consider the number of recent lawsuits arising out of shootings or other criminal activities in schools, churches, movie theaters, shopping centers, hotels, airports, and other places. In 2014 alone, the FBI indicated an estimated 1,165,383 violent crimes were reported. See Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports (2014). As these incidents and lawsuits continue to grow in frequency, it becomes more important to take steps to try to minimize both the problem and the exposure for premises liability.
Although a variety of legal theories have been proffered from state to state, the most common theory of premises liability against Deep Pockets is foreseeability of the criminal act and failure of Deep Pockets to take reasonable precautions in light of that foreseeability. Foreseeability can involve a variety of factors, including prior similar and prior violent incidents.