Property owners generally have a duty to exercise care to protect invitees from dangerous conditions on the premises. In a January 28, 2021 Maryland wrongful death case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland explained the circumstances under which a property owner may be held liable for the criminal acts of a third party.
The lawsuit was brought by the estates of two teenagers who were shot and killed by an unknown assailant while standing outside of an apartment building owned by the defendant. Prior to the teens’ deaths, the defendant had known of prior violent crimes occurring outside of the apartment buildings, common areas, and parking areas. The plaintiffs claimed that in light of the history of crime at the apartment complex, the defendant was negligent in failing to take sufficient security measures to protect them from criminal activity at the complex. After the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, the plaintiffs appealed.
In a negligence action in Maryland, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, that the defendant breached that duty, and that the plaintiff suffered actual injury or loss as a proximate result of the defendant’s breach of that duty.
Generally, there is no special duty imposed upon a landlord to protect tenants from crimes perpetrated by third parties. However, if the landlord knows, or should know, of criminal activity in the common areas, the landlord has a duty to take reasonable actions to eliminate the conditions contributing to the criminal activity. The duty in that situation is to provide reasonable security measures to eliminate foreseeable harm. If the harm is not of the type that would be associated with the known criminal activity on the premises, the landlord has no duty to take measures to eliminate that harm.
On appeal, the court held that if the plaintiffs’ allegations were true regarding the defendant’s knowledge of police reports of shootings, assaults, and drug activity occurring on the premises, combined with concerns shared by the property manager, a jury could conclude that the defendant did owe a duty to take reasonable security measures. However, the appeals court went on to find that the plaintiffs in the case had failed to produce any evidence that the alleged failure of the defendant to take reasonable security measures was the proximate cause of the shooting. The court explained that without any evidence regarding the circumstances of the shooting, the identity of the shooter and whether the shooter was authorized to be on the premises, or any witnesses with personal knowledge of how the shooting occurred or what precipitated it, the plaintiffs could not show a viable theory of causation. The court therefore affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendant.
At Foran & Foran, our negligence lawyers can provide guidance to injury victims and their families after an accident. We represent plaintiffs in personal injury cases, medical negligence actions, premises liability claims, and more. Schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting us online.