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Third Party Criminal Acts

A third-party-criminal-act is where you find yourself hurt by the criminal behavior of someone while on the property of another. A simple example would be a purse-snatching in a mall which results in broken bones or other injuries. Being raped in a parking garage is a much more severe example.

The general rule is that an owner/operator of an establishment has a duty to protect you from injury caused by the conduct of a third party. This duty arises if the owner has reasonable apprehension of danger from the conduct of the third party. If the owner has no reason to foresee the criminal conduct, the owner has no duty to protect you from it.

The establishment owner/operator must have general knowledge of the dangerous condition on his property. So, let’s say a store has a general knowledge that shoplifters engage in snatch-and-grab activities and subsequently run out of their store. Should such an incident occur while you’re at that store, and you get run down by a subsequent snatch-and-grab suspect, the store could be said to possess a general knowledge of the danger that its patrons will be run down by this criminal conduct.

An injured plaintiff must produce evidence of prior similar crimes on the property to establish that the property owner had notice of the dangerous condition and had a duty to exercise ordinary care to protect his/her customers from this dangerous condition. That does not mean that a property owner has a “one free bite” rule protecting him or her. This is the CENTRAL ISSUE in cases involving third-party criminal acts.

These prior crimes must be “substantially similar” to the crime that caused your injury in order to establish foreseeability. While, other general acts of criminality will usually be insufficient to establish foreseeability, the prior acts need not be identical either. So, while a property owner may have never had a shooting occur on his/her premises, a prior armed robbery might be substantially similar to establish foreseeability.

Prior property crimes may also be “substantially similar”. The Court will consider the location, nature and extent of prior criminal activities and their likeness, proximity or other relationship to the subsequent crime to determine if their substantially similar. So, for example, prior burglaries at a given location make a break-in and sexual assault foreseeable. The prior crimes must give the owner/operator sufficient reason to foresee the subsequent crime. Crimes of vandalism and theft, for example, do not make a rape and robbery foreseeable.

Finally, the substantially similar crimes must be committed in the same general area of the defendant’s property and in the same general time-frame as the subsequent crime. Prior crimes occurring too distantly in the past are too remote to be considered substantially similar. It appears, from case law that crimes occurring 1-3 years prior are relevant, but crimes occurring 10 years prior are, generally, too remote.

Premises liability cases require an attorney who is willing to put some time into investigating the given location for prior criminal acts. Properly establishing substantially similar incidents is the key to winning at trial or securing a fair settlement.

If you or someone you know has been hurt by the criminal conduct of a third party, you may need an attorney. Please visit my website at Email me at [email protected] or call me at 770-729-4809.

- Jason Carnell

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