Of no one, one of the victims kidnapped by...

TO THE SURPRISE

February 25, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

TO THE SURPRISE of no one, one of the victims kidnapped by Dontay Carter last year has filed a lawsuit against the owners LTC of the garage where the abduction took place and against the garage's private security firm.

Oh, what's that? You say it was a surprise to you, Reader? It shouldn't have been. You haven't been paying attention.

Crime-related "premises liability" suits are a hot ticket in the law. The number filed in the nation doubled in the last five years.

Profitably for some. For example, recently the Delaware Supreme Court upheld a $600,000 verdict in a case involving a Dover restaurant whose practice was to have busboys escort waitresses to their cars in the establishment's parking lot after work. After one such escort returned inside, a waitress was robbed and raped as she sat in her car on the darkened lot.

Had a Pinkerton been the escort, and had he remained till the waitress said she was ready to drive off, the restaurant might have won the case. According to an insurance official, firms are more likely to successfully defend themselves against these claims when they have either hired professional guards and/or taken other measures such as better lighting, more secure locks, etc. Courts have traditionally used the rule of reasonableness. If a firm takes "reasonable" care to protect people, it should not be liable.

Also, if a crime is not "foreseeable," the firm is less likely to be liable. But in cities like Baltimore in recent years, it has probably become true that just about every sort of violent crime is "foreseeable" in just about every sort of setting.

Ask yourself this question: Would you really be surprised to read that an armed assault or even murder had occurred anywhere, any time in the city?

The Dontay Carter plaintiff may or may not win his case. A judge or jury may or may not decide that in 1992 it was "foreseeable" that someone could be abducted from a downtown parking garage in broad daylight and that, therefore, more security than was provided was required.

But you can be sure of this: The "unforeseeable" defense is not going to work in Baltimore the next time something like this happens. Everybody knows about Dontay Carter. Even Judge John Prevas. Now.

In addition to businesses like restaurants and parking garages, residential apartment buildings are also fat targets for crime-related premises liability suits.

In fact, a study of such suits for the 1983-1991 period showed apartments were sued more often than any other enterprise.

In fact, in California an apartment owner was sued by neighbors merely for not taking steps to prevent undesirable criminal types from hanging around the building. The neighbors won and got $218,325.

Monday: A Charles Village exception to the Saturday Night Special law?

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