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Can a property owner be held liable for failing to act to prevent harm caused by criminal activity? In Georgia, a business owner that fails to take steps (or takes inadequate steps) to prevent harm caused by criminal activity can be held liable for the harm that a person suffers. The question that arises in many of these types of premises liability cases is whether the harm was reasonably foreseeable to the business owner, and the facts that we rely upon to establish that the business owner should have done more to prevent the injury can take many different forms.

Carlock v. Kmart Corp, Cub Foods was one of the defendant business property owners that the plaintiff sought to recover from as a result of the failure to investigate and take steps to prevent criminal activity in a parking lot. The plaintiff attempted to rely upon prior robberies to establish that Cub Foods should have take steps to prevent the criminal activity. However, the prior criminal activity that the plaintiff relied upon occurred prior to Cub Food occupying the space in which the crime occurred. Should Cub Foods have inquired of the lessor of the property about prior criminal activity in the location.

In Sun Trust Banks v. Killebrew, 266 Ga. 109, 464 S.E.2d 207 (1995), our supreme court found no authority in this state imposing a duty on a property owner to investigate police files to determine whether criminal activities have occurred on its premises. The Court refused to impose such a duty in Killebrew, where testimony by the bank’s security chief did not establish that the bank’s “duty to investigate crimes on its property encompassed seeking out police reports of incidents not reported to the bank.” Id. at 109–110, 464 S.E.2d 207.

We likewise refuse to impose a similar duty on Cub Foods in this case. We are aware of no authority requiring a commercial tenant of a shopping center to investigate police files or the files of its landlord to determine whether criminal activities occurred in the parking lot prior to its occupancy. Furthermore, the testimony of Cub Foods’ corporate loss prevention manager indicates that Cub Foods never had such a policy. Under these circumstances, we find that no genuine issue of foreseeability exists on this ground. See id.

Carlock v. Kmart Corp, 227 Ga. App. 356, 357-58, 489 S.E.2d 99, 101-02 (1997).

Our Court of Appeals was reticent to require a business owner to inquire as to prior criminal activity at the location. Accordingly, the injured party was unable to submit this claim to the jury.

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About the Author

Ben Sessions, Attorney at Sessions Law Group
Ben Sessions

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