Sexual Assault and Shooting at Apartment Claims
Through my past experience working as a defense attorney for commercial property owners, I have handled many violent and disturbing assault cases, including rapes and shootings. We hear stories about people being stabbed, beaten, shot, or raped in their apartments all too often, and it is even sadder to hear these stories when you know that they probably could have been avoided.
Although rapes and assaults can certainly take place at any type of home, these incidents are more likely to occur at apartment complexes.
These are the two major kinds of incidents that occur at apartment buildings:
1) The attacker is a tenant at the apartment building or a guest of a tenant.
2) The attacker gained access to the apartment by trespassing.
Before I lay out the major differences between these two kinds of cases, I will provide some brief legal context about the duties property owners have toward their tenants’ safety.
Although it is impossible for a landlord to legally guarantee your safety as a tenant, the law states that landlords have an obligation to take reasonable safety precautions after they learn that the area has a crime problem.
Our investigations on behalf of clients have revealed a disturbing response to crime: turning a blind eye to the problem. In many cases, building managers simply decide to ignore the issue instead of responding appropriately by improving lighting, using security cameras, and having more frequent patrols.
We are currently handling a case against an apartment complex where there was a large street party on the premises in the common area at 1 AM with loud music and alcohol, which was against the posted rules. The client was a guest of his sister's and attended the party. At some point a fight broke out and the client was hit by stray bullets from the altercation, spending several weeks in Grady hospital recovering. This particular apartment has a long history of shootings and murders and yet the owners continue to do nothing. They stick their head in the sand and refuse to provide the tenants with any nighttime security patrols. The case should proceed to trial in 2013.
For more information about how Georgia courts look at negligent security cases involving assault, Sturbridge Partners, Ltd. v. Walker 267 Ga. 785, 482 SE2d 339 (1997) is a crucial Georgia appellate case that goes in-depth on these issues.
When moving forward with a negligent security case, the most important thing for you to prove is that the property had a history of crime before your particular incident. If you cannot show that the area had an established crime problem before your own case, the judge will probably dismiss your claim (and rightly so).
What to Do if Your Attacker Was a Guest or Tenant
If your attacker was a tenant of the apartment building or the guest of a tenant, it will be more difficult for you to demonstrate that increased security measures would have kept the incident from happening. However, you can still make a strong case if you can show that the apartment building should have screened the tenant's criminal background and rejected him or her as a resident in the first place. To succeed in court, you would have to demonstrate that the tenant did have a criminal background and that the apartment complex failed to run a standard background check before accepting the tenant.
What to Do if Your Attacker Was a Stranger
Assault cases involving strangers are the most common, but you will still have to prove two important things in court. First, you need to prove that there had been other instances of assault on the property before your own incident. In addition, you must have evidence that the apartment complex did not implement the necessary safety measures to protect tenants after assaults started occurring.
Overall, premises security law is one of the most subjective and complicated branches of personal injury law. If you would like to gain our perspective on your own case, please call our office today.
Rape on Campus: Who Knew and Who’s Responsible?
College football season is only a few days away, but we already have what will surely be the biggest scandal of the year- former Baylor University football player Sam Ukwuachu, a transfer from Boise State, was found guilty of raping a fellow student while still on athletic scholarship at the conservative, private Baptist school. While the criminal jury has now spoken, the shoddy investigation and negligence of the athletic department and the university administration as a whole could subject the school to significant civil liability to the tune of millions of dollars in potential damages.
Most of the news coverage of this story has focused on the conflicting reports from former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen and Baylor coach Art Briles over Ukwuachu’s past prior to his transfer to Baylor. All that’s known is that Petersen called Briles at some point about the transfer, although the content of the conversation is disputed. Surely Briles should have thought it odd that Boise was letting an All-American freshmen defensive end out of his commitment? Did he not think he should at least check into the player’s history of conduct off the field, which included reports of domestic violence and a dismissal from the team? Either way, the Baylor athletic department was at least negligent in its handling of the transfer and utterly failed to properly look into Ukwuachu’s background before handing him a scholarship.
Just as concerning, however, was the University administration’s handling of the entire case. Baylor conducted a Title IX investigation and determined that it was more likely than not that the rape did not happen. Subsequently, a jury in Waco, TX found that Ukwuachu committed the rape beyond a reasonable doubt. The discrepancy between these two results (especially in light of the two standards used in the two different proceedings) is alarming and raises serious questions as to how thorough the school’s investigation actually was. In fact, the judge presiding over the criminal trial found the school’s investigation to be so incompetent that he did not permit its admission as evidence. It certainly appears as though someone wanted the entire thing to disappear prior to criminal charges being brought by the DA. More importantly, we do not know how much school President Ken Starr- a man with significant prosecutorial experience in his own right- knew about Ukwuachu’s admission or the school’s subsequent investigation.
Here’s to hoping the young victim in this case brings a Title IX suit and a negligence claim against the school that was supposed to protect her. Even though her tragic circumstances can never be changed, a lawsuit of this magnitude could prevent similar events from happening again on other college campuses.