Do Washington, D.C. Businesses Have a Duty to Protect Customers from Criminal Activity?

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.

The plaintiff claimed that the bar breached its duty to protect him because the bar was located in an area with criminal activity, that the bar had experienced criminal activity for years before the incident, and that the bar knew or should have known that it was frequented by people with a propensity to engage in criminal conduct. The bar argued that it did not owe a duty to him to protect him because the incident was not foreseeable.

The state’s supreme court held that in this case, the bar did not have a duty to protect the plaintiff from the fight, because there was no evidence that the bar knew the fight would occur. The fight occurred without warning, and the bar did not have a duty to protect him from such a sudden and unexpected act. As a result, the fight was not foreseeable and the court dismissed the case against the bar.

Consult a Washington, D.C. Injury Lawyer Today

If you or a loved one has been the victim of negligent or intentional conduct that resulted in serious injuries, contact the legal team at Lebowitz & Mzhen, Personal Injury Lawyers. Our injury attorneys represent accident victims in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding areas, including throughout Maryland and Virginia. Suffering a serious injury can be stressful and overwhelming for you and for your family. The dedicated Washington, D.C. slip and fall attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen have decades of experience handling all types of personal injury claims and can evaluate your claim and guide you through the process. For a free consultation, call 410-654-1949 or contact them online to discuss your claim with an attorney.

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