As part of a D.C. premises liability claim, a plaintiff has to prove that a defendant had the duty to protect the plaintiff from foreseeable harm. Under D.C. law, generally, a defendant is not liable to an individual for the criminal acts of a third party, unless there is a special relationship between the parties. Special relationships can include employers and their employees, landlords and tenants, and businesses and their invitees.
Generally, business owners have a duty to protect invitees from injuries inflicted by third parties if the owner could have known that such acts were occurred or were about to occur. Cases involving criminal acts have a heightened burden of proving that the act was foreseeable. In cases involving criminal activity, because of the nature of criminal conduct, D.C. courts generally require that plaintiffs prove that the criminal act was “so foreseeable that a duty arises to guard against it.”
In a recent case before one state’s supreme court, the court considered whether a bar could be held liable for a person’s injuries sustained in a fight in the parking lot at closing time. In that case, the plaintiff and a friend were at the bar, and went outside when the bar was closing. The plaintiff did not have any disputes with anyone in the bar while he was inside. As the plaintiff and his friend were crossing the parking lot, they got into a fight with other customers, and the plaintiff suffered injuries that left him permanently blind.