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The duty of care in premises liability cases

Landlords in Georgia and around the country are expected to do all that they reasonably can to protect visitors and members of the public from harm, but the scope of this duty of care has been the focus of fierce legal debate. Plaintiffs in negligence lawsuits have argued that landlords have additional duties to protect others under premises liability law, but the courts have been reluctant to impose duties on landlords that would not apply equally to others.

These issues were raised recently in a case argued before the North Dakota Supreme Court. In that case, the justices ruled that expecting landlords to warn others of illegal drug use or requiring them to report such drug use to the authorities would essentially turn them into agents of the government. The justices also noted that imposing such duties on landlords would likely make it more difficult for individuals with substance abuse problems to find accommodation and could even lead to a crisis at homeless shelters and addiction centers.

The justices conceded that landlords may be expected to take action or issue warnings when they possess superior knowledge about specific threats. However, the plaintiffs in the North Dakota premises liability case were unable to establish that the property owner involved was aware of ongoing criminal activity or possessed knowledge of an imminent threat.

Arguments that seek to extend generally accepted legal boundaries may be dismissed by judges before they are ever heard by juries. Experienced personal injury attorneys may seek to avoid such setbacks in premises liability cases by gathering evidence of the defendant's specific and superior knowledge of the dangerous situation in question. Police reports and crime statistics might be used to suggest that property owners were willfully blind to hazards that would have been obvious to a reasonable person; a history of safety violations, injuries and personal injury lawsuits may establish a pattern of negligent behavior.

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