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What Obligation Does A Texas Property Owner Have to Protect Third Parties From Crime?

When a crime occurs on someone else’s property, who is liable for the harm caused by that crime? Of course, the person who committed the act of crime should be held accountable, but does a property owner have any sort of obligation to a crime victim? Does a property owner have a duty to protect third parties from falling victim to crimes committed on their property?

Man Victimized By Crime In The Parking Lot of An Apartment Complex

The Texas Supreme Court recently weighed in on this issue in UDR Texas Properties LP et al. v. Alan Petrie. In this case, Petrie was waiting for a coworker at The Gallery apartment complex, which is owned by UDR Texas Properties. Petrie was attending a party at the apartment complex, but needed to be let into the gated facility and so was in the process of calling someone to give him access.  The visitor parking area was not gated. While he was on the phone, a vehicle pulled up behind Petrie’s vehicle and blocked him in. Two men exited the vehicle and pointed a rifle at Petrie, telling him to get out of the car and to give up his wallet and keys. When Petrie did not get to the ground fast enough for his assailants, the gunman shot Petrie.

After the attack, Petrie sued UDR Texas Properties for not taking precautions to protect visitors to the apartment complex from crime. Petrie argued that the Gallery was in a high crime area and that the property owners knew or should have known that the area was unsafe and thus should have taken steps to make the complex safer.

Was The Crime Risk Foreseeable? Was The Crime Risk Unreasonable?

Texas has a body of case law on this issue, which emphasizes two tests: Was the crime risk foreseeable and was the crime risk unreasonable? Generally, property owners have no legal duty to protect people from third-party acts of crime committed on their property, however a property owner that controls a premises does have a legal duty to use ordinary care to protect those parties on the property from an unreasonable and foreseeable risk of harm.

According to the Texas Supreme Court, if a risk to a person on the property is foreseeable, as would be the case in a high crime rate area, and is also unreasonable (meaning there is a high likelihood that the person will fall victim to an act of crime while on the property), then a duty to protect can be imposed on the property owner. The Court performs a weighing test when determining if a crime risk is unreasonable. If the risk of a foreseeable crime outweighs the burden placed on the property owner to take precautions to protect those who visit the property from acts of crime, then the crime risk is as unreasonable as it is foreseeable.

In this case, the Court rendered judgment for  UDR Texas Properties because Petrie offered no evidence of the burden that preventing such a crime would impose on GalleryUDR.

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