Couch v. Red Roof Inns, Inc. & Contributory Negligence in Alabama

The Georgia Supreme Court recently ruled a property owner could share blame with criminal defendants in a negligent security claim.

Couch v. Red Roof Inns, Inc., in a negligent security claim stemming from a violent attack at a hotel. The court found apportioning damages between the property owner and criminal assailant would not violate the victim’s Constitutional rights of due process and equal protection. The court also found it permissible to provide jury instructions and a special form requiring such a division of blame.Premise liability claims in Montgomery can be brought as a result of a variety of incidences or accident claims, including slip and fall accidents, dog bites and swimming pool injuries. A negligent security claim alleges the business or property owner was not diligent in protecting customers and invited guests from a foreseeable criminal attack.

In this case, the plaintiff brought a lawsuit after suffering a violent criminal attack by unknown criminal assailants.

“The statutory scheme is designed to apportion damages among “all persons or entities who contributed to the alleged injuries or damages,” the court wrote. The purpose of the tortfeasors, the court said, is for the jury to decide which entities shared liability for a victim’s injury, so that their respective responsibilities can be determined. A determination on the fault of the plaintiff, may then reduce the award by a corresponding percentage.

Georgia’s high court rejected a number of arguments from the plaintiff’s, including that appropriation would nullify the obligation of property owners to keep their premises safe and to avoid the consequences of actions or inactions; and that the property owner should be held responsible as an accomplice to the crime, just as criminal law often holds accomplices responsible for an entire course of criminal conduct.

A negligent security claim in Alabama may result when a residential landlord, hotel owner, bar owner, concert promoter or other defendant is accused of facilitating a criminal attack through negligence. Parking lot assault, rape, robbery, or mugging may fall beneath the umbrella of negligent security. Under Georgia law, victims who are more than 50 percent responsible cannot collect damages.

While Georgia premise liability law does not directly apply in Alabama, our state is one of only five jurisdictions that recognize pure contributory negligence in auto accident cases. Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and the District of Columbia also recognize contributory negligence in auto accidents. The law permits a victim to be assigned partial blame in the event of a crash.

As a practical matter, this means seeking experienced legal advice is a critical first step in the immediate aftermath of a traffic collision or an injury sustained on someone’s property. Documenting the scene, collecting witness statements, taking pictures and beginning an early investigation can be the determining factor in whether you are ultimately forced to share blame.

Time can be of particular importance when dealing with a premise liability claim, as property owners and managers often quickly repair dangerous conditions in the wake of a serious or fatal accident.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a personal injury attorney today.

More Blog Entries:

Prom Season and Car Accidents in Montgomery, Alabama Injury Lawyer Blog, April 23, 2012

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