In the state of Georgia, inviting someone onto your property or having them as a patron, customer, patient, or ticketholder, assumes certain security responsibilities. Property owners who invite guests onto their land must take reasonable care to prevent criminal activity. That means having adequate lighting, locks, cameras, and even security personnel when necessary.
If a guest becomes the victim of violent crime while on your property, they could potentially file a claim against you if you did not have reasonable security measures. That raises an important question: What are reasonable security responsibilities for Georgia homeowners?
A negligent security claim occurs when someone directly impacted by violent crime files a lawsuit against the owner of the property where the crime occurred. Negligent security is a civil case, meaning it will be dealt with between private citizens or corporations. There’s no risk of someone in a negligent security case going to jail unless the negligent security included criminal elements, such as booby-traps. There are four things attorneys look for before filing a negligent security claim.
1. Was the victim invited or considered a guest on the premises?
2. Did the defendant (the property owner) have a duty to keep the guest safe?
3. Did the defendant have adequate and reasonable security at the time of the crime?
4. Would the crime have occurred had there been proper security?
Liability as a Homeowner
Imagine you’ve invited friends over for a party when an uninvited guest walks through the unlocked door. They act normally but eventually leave with another of your guests. If that guest becomes the victim of a violent crime, are you responsible?
While it depends on the exact details, Georgia courts have set a precedent that a property owner can incur premises liability if the violent crime begins on their property, even if the violent action did not. That means the crime does not need to happen in your home if inadequate security allowed it to take place.
Similarly, if someone at your party violent or aggressive from the influence of drugs or alcohol, you would have an obligation to escort that person off your property or even have them apprehended by police if they seemed potentially dangerous.
For example, bars have a duty under the law (meeting the second requirement of a negligent security claim) to monitor intoxicated patrons. If someone is hurt as a result of a rowdy patron or if an alcohol-fueled fight breaks out, victims may claim the bar did not provide adequate or reasonable security.
Reasonable Security Measures
Reasonable is an important term in premises liability cases. The first step in determining whether the property owner is at fault is taking stock of their security measures and whether they were active at the time of the crime.
For businesses, this could mean monitoring security cameras, having a properly trained security guard present, and ensuring proper lighting around the premises. While those are reasonable expectations for businesses, homeowners are held to a different standard.
Reasonably, a homeowner should have functioning locks on the doors and windows and adequate lighting in and around the building. If you live in an area with frequent criminal activity, you might invest in a security camera, though that comes with its own complexities.
If you intended to protect your home and your guests with a security camera, you must ensure that it adheres to Georgia privacy laws. That means your camera cannot be pointed at a neighbor’s backyard or window, a public gathering place, or a private space (such as a bathroom). Under the law, a security camera’s scope must be considered unoffensive to neighbors and passersby.
Before someone can file a claim because of injuries caused by violent crime on your property, they must establish that they were invited and that you had a duty to keep them safe. When you invite someone into your home, be they friends, family, or a tenant renting the spare room, you create an obligation to reasonably protect them.
People invited into your residence have the greatest protection under the law and you are expected to provide adequate security for them. That could mean locking your doors while they’re present or keeping the porch lights on until they are safely in their car.
Similarly, having a tenant invites all the reasonable expectations of a business to keep the resident safe. That means ensuring regular maintenance to points of entry such as windows and doors, potentially having a security camera, and keeping track of keys. If you live in an area frequently targeted by violent crime, you may even need to install window bars or additional security measures to maintain reasonable security.
Adhering to Approachability
All properties, include your home, must be reasonably approachable. That means you can’t have dangerous materials (such as a large amount of broken glass) scattered around the premises. Similarly, it is unwise to provide excessive defense for an uninhabited property.
Even trespassers can file negligent security claims under certain circumstances. It is illegal for a property owner to go out of their way to make the premises dangerous. Booby-traps are unlawful in Georgia, and anyone hurt by a mantrap can file a personal injury claim and pursue criminal charges. Under the law, it is considered unreasonable to defend a vacant property with deadly force.
If you or someone you love were victims of a violent crime on someone else’s property, you might have a case. If you’d like to schedule a free case evaluation with an experienced premises liability attorney from Pratt Clay, please call 404-566-9460 or send us an email.