Georgia Court of Appeals Reaffirms Superior Knowledge Requirement in Violent Act Premises Case
In ABH Corporation v. Montgomery, Case No. A20A0854 (9/17/2020), the Court reviewed the trial court’s denial of a motion for summary judgment by the defendants. Montgomery had filed suit after being attacked outside of a gas station and convenience store. Looking at the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the Court nonetheless found:
So viewed, the record shows that Montgomery lived near the store and worked at the barber shop in the shopping center in which the store was located. Montgomery deposed that he had lived in the area for 15 years and was familiar with “the clientele and individuals in the area.” Montgomery further deposed that the store was located in a dangerous area and he acknowledged that there was a chance he could be “affected” by the danger.
On the date in question, Montgomery and a friend went to the store. Montgomery was approached by a man in the parking lot asking for money (this had happened to Montgomery before). When Montgomery refused the man; Montgomery said he had no money. Upon seeing Montgomery make a purchase. The man again approached Montgomery and commented words to the affect “you must have money.” Montgomery again refused and was summarily attacked as was Montgomery’s friend when he sought to assist Montgomery. Montgomery suffered injuries and sued claiming the store breached its duty by failing to keep the premises safe.
The Court found that a premises owner has a duty to keep his premises safe, and alleged failure must demonstrate some fact which indicates the premises owner/occupier had superior knowledge of the danger. The Court emphasized:
[t]he proprietor is not the insurer of the invitee’s safety, but is bound to exercise ordinary care to protect the invitee from unreasonable risks of which he or she has superior knowledge. If the proprietor has reason to anticipate a criminal act, he or she then has a duty to exercise ordinary care to guard against injury from dangerous characters.
citing Days Inns of America v. Matt, 265 Ga. 235, 235 (1995). Based on the facts as set out, the Court found the land owner/proprietor did not have a duty to review police information with regard to crimes in the area and that a reference in the police report to authorities being called about report crimes multiple times in the past did not forgive the plaintiff’s obligation to demonstrate superior knowledge on the owner/occupier’s part:
Under these circumstances, the existence of crime in the area – by itself – does not raise a genuine question of material fact as to [the store’s] knowledge.” Bolton., 348 Ga. App. at 763 (1). See Cavender, 331 Ga. App. at 477 (1) (b) (“[T]he [p]laintiffs [cannot] rest upon the police reports as a means to establish the [d]efendants’ knowledge of the activities contained in those reports.”)
Accordingly, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion for summary judgement. Land owner’s and business operators are well advised to determine what level of knowledge.