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Maryland Court Allows Plaintiffs to Pursue Wrongful Death Suit Against Shopping Center for Fatal Robbery

In Maryland, a property owner generally is under no duty to protect another person from criminal acts of a third party that occur on the property.  There are exceptions, however.  In a July 2, 2021 wrongful death case, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals explained the kinds of circumstances that would be necessary to hold a property owner liable for crimes committed by a third party against a tenant leasing the premises.

The decedent in the case was killed during a robbery that took place at a retail store while he was working as the manager.  The store was in a Maryland strip mall, where there was a long history of criminal activity on the parking lot, including a murder committed the month before.  The decedent’s family brought wrongful death claims against the owner of the shopping center, alleging that it knew of the dangerous criminal activity and negligently failed to take security measures to protect the occupants of leased premises from foreseeable criminal acts of third persons committed inside those stores.

The circuit court dismissed the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, ruling that, as a matter of law, the shopping center did not owe a duty to protect the decedent from the criminal acts of third persons committed on a store’s leased premises.  An appeal followed.

A Maryland negligence action requires proof that: (1) the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, (2) the defendant breached that duty, (3) the plaintiff suffered injury or loss, and (4) the loss or injury proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of that duty.  In a premises liability case, the relationship between a property owner and the victim of a crime that occurred on the property may give rise to a duty of care relating to criminal acts of third persons.

On appeal, the court explained that if a landlord knows, or should know, of dangerous activities in a common area affecting the leased premises, and that such activities would cause foreseeable harm to a tenant inside the leased premises, the landlord has a duty to take reasonable measures under the existing circumstances to eliminate conditions contributing to the criminal activity.  The court emphasized that whether a duty actually arises depends upon the facts of the particular case, particularly those relating to the landlord’s knowledge.  Examples of relevant facts may include the terms of the lease, whether and in what amount similar crimes had been committed in common areas and parking lots of the shopping center, whether the defendant knew or should have known of such crimes, and whether the defendant had taken any security measures to protect tenants inside their stores.

Ultimately, the appeals court ruled that the question of whether the defendant had a duty to protect the decedent depended on facts that had not yet been developed on record.  The court therefore vacated the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

If you were injured as a result of negligence, you may be able to recover damages against the party responsible.  At Foran & Foran, P.A., our Maryland premises liability lawyers can provide advice and legal representation after an accident.  Schedule your free consultation today by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting us online.

 

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