The Duty to Protect Against Third Party Crimes
SPECIAL RELATIONSHIPS MAY GIVE RISE TO A DUTY TO PREVENT FORESEEABLE CRIMES
Generally speaking, the law does not require people to protect others against the possibility of third party crimes. However, property owners (and those in possession or control of land) may have such a duty where a legally-recognized “special relationship” exists between the property owner and the victim. In such cases, the property owner’s duty to maintain his or her property in reasonably safe condition includes an obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable third party crimes.
Some of the legally recognized special relationships that give rise to this duty in California include:
1. Adult and child.
2. Business and customer.
3. Landlord and tenant.
(The duty exists in other situations also – these are merely three examples.)
PROPERTY OWNERS MAY HAVE THREE DIFFERENT DUTIES WITH REGARD TO CRIMES
The land owner’s duty to maintain property in a manner reasonably designed to prevent third party crimes may take three different forms:
1. A duty to take reasonable steps to prevent or protect against criminal acts.
2. A duty to respond to crimes in progress (or imminent crimes).
3. A duty to warn about foreseeable crimes, where the criminal acts can be reasonably anticipated.
The property owner’s duty is measured using a “sliding scale” of a crime’s foreseeability versus the cost or other burdens of prevention. Where preventing the criminal act would create a larger burden on the landlord, courts usually require a greater degree of foreseeability in order to impose a burden. However, where the cost of prevention is lower, a lower degree of foreseeability may suffice. In many cases, the foreseeability of criminal acts is proven by evidence that other, similar, criminal acts had occurred on the premises in the past. This is because where previous crimes of a similar nature took place in the past, it is often foreseeable that they will occur again. (Especially if the landlord failed to take affirmative steps to prevent them from recurring.)
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