Premise Owner Liability for Assault

Does a Premise owner have any duty to protect people from the criminal conduct of others on their property?
Generally, property owners have no legal duty to protect persons from third-party criminal acts.

Texas case law has laid out 5 factors to determine if a landowner has a duty to protect against the criminal conduct of others. Those factors  which are laid out in the Texas Supreme Court’s Timberwalk decision are “proximity, recency, frequency, similarity, and publicity.” The Court concluded that evidence of past risk was not enough. A recent Supreme Court decision in Petrie v. The Gallery Apartments, focussed primarily on the forseeability and reasonableness of the risk as well as the potential burden that preventing such a crime would impose on the property owner.

In Petrie v. The Gallery Apartments, Alan Petrie arrived at The Gallery Apartments at 2am to attend a party hosted by a co-workers. He parked in a visitor lot at the front of the complex. Although the comple was gated, the visitor parking lot, which spanned most of the property’s street frontage was not gated and accessible to the public. While Petrie made a phone call from his car, two men exited a vehicle and approached Petrie with guns. The two men robbed Petrie and shot him in the knee and later tried to shoot him in the head but the gun did not fire so they then left. Petrie sued The Gallery Apartments alleging it knew or should have known about the high crime rate on its premises and in the surrounding area and failed to use ordinary care to make the complex safe.

The Texas Supreme Court held that a risk must be both foreseeable and unreasonable to impose a duty on a property owner. There has to be evidence of similar crimes that took place recently and in the same vicinity to meet foreseeability. Additionally, after foreseeability is met, the unreasonableness of the risk must be considered. Unreasonableness “turns on the risk and likelihood of injury to the plaintiff…as well as the magnitude and consequences of placing a duty on the defendant.” Del Lago, 307 S.W.3d at 770.

In the Petrie case, The Court held that the Plaintiff failed to meet his burden to present evidence that not only was the criminal conduct forseeable but there was an unreasonable risk that could have been feasibly prevented by the Defendant.

These cases are extremely difficult to win in Texas. Several factors have to be met by the Plaintiff to get past summary judgment. If you have a case like this one above and have questions, call our office today.