Washington, D.C. Premises Liability Cases Based on a Third-Party’s Criminal Conduct

As a general rule, Washington, D.C. landowners owe a duty of care to those whom they allow onto their property, and when someone is injured on another’s property they may be able to pursue a claim for compensation through a Washington, D.C. premises liability lawsuit. However, landowners are not always responsible for a visitor’s injuries. Thus, a common question that comes up in Washington, D.C. premises liability cases is whether a landowner can be liable for injuries caused by criminal acts of a third-party.

These cases are more common than most people think. For example, violent criminal acts that occur in Washington, D.C. apartment complexes, schools, playgrounds, basketball courts, or parking lots may all be preventable. However, determining when the landowner can be held liable for the injuries caused as a result of such criminal conduct can be tricky. A recent state appellate opinion discusses how courts view premises liability claims based on a third-party’s criminal conduct.

The Facts

In its opinion, the court explained that the plaintiff had just finished picking up a few items at the grocery store and was walking to her car when she was approached by a man who shot and killed her. The estate of the plaintiff filed a wrongful death claim against the owner of the grocery store, arguing that the owner had a duty to protect customers from the criminal acts of third parties.

In support of her claim, the plaintiff argued that the store was located in a high-crime area and that there had been prior violent crimes occurring outside the store. The plaintiff also noted that the store had bulletproof glass and security cameras, arguing that this indicated the owner’s knowledge of the dangers presented.

The court, however, rejected the plaintiff’s claim. The court explained that landowners are not required to protect against every conceivable harm, and are only expected to protect visitors from unreasonable risks of known hazards. The court acknowledged that prior criminal acts occurring on a defendant’s property can give rise to a duty to take remedial action, however, no such obligation arises unless the defendant has superior knowledge of the harms, or, in this case, the prior crimes.

Here, the court noted that the manager of the store testified that he thought the store was in a safe area, and that he installed bullet-proof glass and security cameras in each of his stores. The manager also testified that he had no knowledge of the criminal acts that had occurred outside his store. That being the case, the court concluded that the defendant did not have a duty to take additional action to ensure the safety of the plaintiff.

Have You Been Injured on Another’s Property?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured due to the violent or criminal acts of another, you may be able to pursue a Washington, D.C. premises liability claim against the owner of the property where you were injured. At the Washington, D.C. personal injury law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, we represent those who have been seriously injured due to the negligent or intentional acts of others. To discuss how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation against those responsible for your injuries, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Can Family Members Be Named as Defendants in Washington D.C. Slip-and-Fall Cases?, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, March 4, 2019

Assumption of the Risk in Washington, D.C. Sports Injury Cases, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, February 19, 2019

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