As an injury attorney, I unfortunately receive phone calls from prospective clients regarding violent assaults and rapes at Georgia apartment complexes. These cases are commonly referred to in Georgia as negligent security cases because the legal inquiry focuses on whether the complex took adequate security measures to protect tenants against assaults given a history of prior crime.The law in Georgia is that the owner must have been aware of sufficient prior crime on the property before the owner has a duty to take reasonable security measures. The test is truly when looking at the big picture of crime on the property if it was a situation where reasonable owners would have taken precautions. In the seminal Georgia Supreme Court case, Sturbridge Partners, Ltd. v. Walker, the tenant was brutally raped by an unknown criminal who forced his way into her apartment. There were only two prior burglaries involving petty theft from unoccupied apartments during the day. The apartment moved the Georgia Court to throw the case out claiming that the prior crimes were totally different from the subject rape. The Georgia Supreme Court disagreed and held that the “issue is not the forseeability of the rape itself, but whether Sturbridge had actual knowledge of the prior burglaries and, because of that knowledge, should have reasonably anticipated the risk of personal harm to a tenant which might occur in the burglary of an occupied apartment.” The legal question now is, is there enough crime such that a reasonable apartment owner would take precautions.
Once the prior crime situation establishes the duty though, the issue of whether the apartment is liable has other components. In order to recover, the victim still must show that the security procedures would have prevented the rape in the Atlanta apartment. In one case where the tenant was raped in an Atlanta apartment, she could not present evidence as to how the criminal got in and therefore the Georgia court granted summary judgment and threw the case out because a jury cannot be left to speculate or guess at whether the owner’s failure to provide security led to the rape. Post Properties, Inc. v. Doe, 230 Ga. App. 34, 495 S.E.2d 573 (1997).
If you get past these obstacles, the Georgia legislature added another hoop in 2005 when the tort reform bill allowed the Defendant to file a Notice of Apportionment of Fault against the unknown rapist or criminal. The defense bar contends that juries will now just fill in 90 or 95 percent of the blame on the blank next to the criminal’s name and allow the apartment to get off Scott free. This is an issue that Georgia negligent security lawyers will be dealing with for years to come, but to date very few of these cases have reached a jury so there is much speculation from both sides. Ultimately, it comes down to the egregiousness of the breach of the duty to provide security that will control the outcome. Fewer cases of gray area security failures will prevail before juries, but clear cut cases will still result in significant verdicts. For instance if there is a two man security patrol, but they are unarmed and the Plaintiff’s theory of recovery is that there should have been a four man armed patrol, that type of case will rarely prevail. If you have questions about a Georgia apartment’s liability for a rape, please feel free to contact me. The law does not require that apartments turn into fortresses, but we do want to hold landlords accountable when they turn a blind eye to a serious crime problem.