Parking garage crimes, such as robberies and assaults, are pretty common in the City of Philadelphia for two reasons. First, Philadelphia has one of the worst crime rates in the country. Second, parking garages are shifting to automation. Self-pay kiosks, which are now used in the majority of parking garages, often lead to a decrease in staff which in turn increases the risk of criminal activity.
For example, a young couple are walking to their car which is parked in a garage in Center City, Philadelphia. The car is parked on the 4th floor of the garage. There is self-pay kiosk, but since it’s after regular business hours, no employees are present anywhere on the premises. After getting off the elevator, the couple proceed to the self-pay kiosk. There, they are robbed at gunpoint by a masked individual. Both are shot and suffer serious injuries. The masked individual flees through the adjacent stairwell and is never caught. Is the garage owner liable for the shooting?
Whether the parking garage owner is liable in this instance depends on two issues: 1. whether the owner is a public or private entity, and 2. whether there were prior, similar reports of criminal conduct at the garage.
Is the Parking Garage Owner a Public or Private Entity?
The status of the parking garage owner is critical because Pennsylvania law gives general immunity to public or government entities. This means that government entities are usually immune from being sued, unless the case falls under some narrow exceptions. One of the most common exceptions in injury cases against government entities is the real property exception, i.e., whether a defect in the property created the danger.
In a parking garage crime case where the garage owner is a public entity, liability will probably hinge on whether a defect in the property itself increased the risk of criminal conduct. In the example above, did the criminal perpetrator gain entry to the garage through a broken door? If there is a valid case against a government entity, PA law requires that a written notice of the intent to proceed with a lawsuit must be sent to the correct government entity. This is a mandatory requirement, and failure to send the written notice to the correct parties may result in dismissal of the case. Therefore, it is important to speak to an injury attorney as soon as possible.
Was there Prior Criminal Activity at the Parking Garage?
Ultimately, in order to succeed, there must be sufficient evidence that the criminal conduct was reasonably foreseeable. In other words, there must be evidence that the parking garage owner should have been able to anticipate that criminal activity would occur. Under the law, commercial property owners do not have to guarantee the safety of customers. Rather, there must be something to trigger the duty to take action. Prior, similar criminal conduct is key.
In the above example, there is evidence that previously, other customers were robbed under similar circumstances, by a masked individual with a gun. If there were multiple prior occurrences, then there is a strong argument that the parking garage owner should have addressed the problem.
On the other hand, if there is no evidence of prior occurrences, then the parking garage owner has a strong defense. The argument is that without prior criminal activity, how could the owner have anticipated that a violent robbery would occur?
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