Increasingly, Georgia juries have awarded large verdicts against business owners for crimes that happen on their premises. For instance, in March, a Fulton County jury hit CVS for $43 million in a parking lot shooting case. In April, a Dekalb jury awarded $69 million in a robbery and carjacking case against Kroger. These escalating verdicts highlight the need to prevail at the motion for summary judgment stage. Fortunately, in the recent case Bolton v. Golden Business, Inc., the Georgia appellate courts have provided much-needed relief to business owners and operators for being held responsible for the criminal acts of others.
In Bolton, Shaneku McCurty was murdered in a convenience store parking lot and suit was brought against Golden Business, Inc., the landlord, for wrongful death and other damages. On November 4, 2019, in a 9-0 opinion, the Georgia Supreme Court denied Plaintiff’s Petition for Certiorari and left standing the Court of Appeals decision affirming of the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Golden – a big win for business owners and operators.
The Georgia appellate courts affirmed the threshold requirement that “…even if an intervening criminal act may have been reasonably foreseeable, the true ground of liability is the superior knowledge of the proprietor of the existence of a condition that may subject the invitee to an unreasonable risk of harm.” And the “…the existence of crime in the area – by itself – does not raise a genuine question of material fact as to Golden’s knowledge” of an unreasonable risk of harm. The standard practice of citing “police reports and other evidence detailing criminal activity” (i.e. crime grids) that the proprietor doesn’t know about isn’t good enough. The Court provided a roadmap: where there is no evidence that the proprietor “witnessed criminal activity” or that “his tenants informed him about crimes or other problems” or that he “received any request for increased or different security” the high bar of superior knowledge is not met.
Bolton is important because it affirmed the grant of summary judgment. Defense lawyers are amending their motion for summary judgment packages as we speak to put the Bolton case front and center. With Bolton being the law of Georgia, there should be more orders granting summary judgment in the future.