In my last post, I shared several concerns about the recent murder of Karen Pearce near a Decatur parking garage. I raised the question about whether the crime could have been avoided or solved sooner had there been surveillance cameras. As noted in that post, the City Manager and I exchanged emails regarding this issue. In that discussion, Ms. Merris mentioned that the city was considering requiring property owners to have minimum lighting and security standards for their properties. I am not sure what that would involve. It sounds like a good start, but the city also needs to take responsibility for having its own security cameras to intercept and track criminals after they leave a private property, not only to aid in apprehension but to prevent other crimes from occurring. MARTA has security cameras, and these were apparently instrumental in later placing Presley near Decatur around the time of the murders.
As mentioned in my prior post, the suspect in the case was picked up at a MARTA station after he tried to get in without a ticket. But what if he had not tried to jump the turnstile? It is possible that someone else could have been killed, because the authorities were not able to identify his likeness as he walked through the Decatur Square after allegedly murdering Ms. Pearce. There were no cameras to help solve this horrific crime.
And what about the property owner? What is the owner’s obligation to ensure that crime does not occur on the premises? Under Georgia law, a property owner has a duty to protect those lawfully on its premises from unreasonable risks of harm. Generally though, the property owner or operator in Georgia is not liable for the criminal acts of others on his property. However, there are exceptions. The true legal test is the superior knowledge of the landowner vis-à-vis the injured victim. If the owner or operator of the property has greater knowledge of the danger of criminal acts than the potential victim on the premises, the owner/operator can be held liable.
When prior criminal activity on the subject property is known (or should be known) to the property owner, and he or she fails to take precautions to protect invitees on the property who might not be aware of such criminal activity, the owner can be held liable. To avoid this liability, most property owners include such things as surveillance cameras and security guards to deter crime and to help police investigate and solve crimes that might occur on their property.
Also relevant in the legal evaluation is the status of the victim on the property. Apparently, the owners of this particular property charged ten dollars for parking, making Ms. Pearce an “invitee” on the property, a status requiring the highest duty of protection. The fact that the landowner charged money without having an attendant on the lot, cameras on the premises or sufficient lighting is very troubling. Without such measures, a criminal is more likely to commit a criminal act.
As we have determined, there were no security cameras anywhere in the area of the Decatur murder.The land owner could well be viewed as negligent in failing to include measures that enable those visiting the premises, to be secure. As is the case with other negligent acts, the plaintiff must establish certain elements such as the owner’s duty to provide secure premies. In the area around the parking garage and office building where the Ms. Pearce lost her life, there were no cameras. Not only the city, but the private property owners, including the owner of the premises on which Ms. Pearce was killed, should certainly be considering precautionary measures for lighting and cameras. This is true particularly because there is also an ATM near this area, which is a known magnet for after hours criminal acts against those withdrawing funds.
Premises liability for criminal acts is an area of the law that requires expertise of experienced lawyers. If you or a loved one have been injured by a third party on private property, you may be entitled to recover for your injuries and related claims from the property owner and others. Contact Scholle Law for a free consultation with a lawyer and an evaluation of your legal rights.