Parking garages and parking lots are hotspots for criminal activity especially in high crime cities like Philadelphia. Customers may suffer injuries due to crimes like robberies, assaults, and sexual assaults.
The problem is that parking garages and parking lots create the perfect storm for criminal activity. Customers with cash or credit cards who are alone in dark and oftentimes unsecured areas are perfect targets. Violent crimes are bound to happen. For example, a man who is walking back to his car in a parking garage suffers stab wounds when he is robbed at knife point, or a woman is robbed and raped in an unattended parking lot late at night.
The reality is that parking garages and parking lots are open to the public, accessible by literally anyone. Arguably, parking garages and parking lots are much like dark, isolated alleyways, and they should be treated as such.
Is the Parking Garage/Lot Owner Liable?
In parking garage crime cases, is the parking garage owner liable? Oftentimes, the answer is yes. Under Pennsylvania law, businesses which own and operate parking garages/lots owe customers a duty to provide a reasonably safe premises, that includes taking reasonable steps to prevent or otherwise warn customers of the potential for criminal activity.
These kinds of cases depend on two questions. First, who is the owner of the parking garage? Second, was there prior knowledge of criminal activity at the parking garage or lot, i.e., was there reason to foresee criminal conduct?
Liability for Failing to Provide a Reasonably Safe Premises – Status of the Parking Garage/Lot Owner
The status of the owner of the parking garage or lot is a key question under Pennsylvania law. Is the parking garage owned by a private business, or is it operated by a government entity? Under PA law, government entities are generally immune from lawsuits for injury, unless the circumstances of the incident fall under special statutory categories. Many parking lots in the City of Philadelphia are owned and operated by the local parking authority, a government entity. Therefore, these parking garage injury cases may only be filed under certain circumstances, such as defective property, i.e., a broken entryway. In addition, there is a mandatory notice requirement which requires that a written notice be filed with the correct government entity no later than 180 days (6 months) after the incident.
Foreseeability – Was the Criminal Conduct Reasonably Foreseeable?
Generally, in order for a parking garage operator/owner to be held liable, there must be sufficient evidence that the owner should have or could have anticipated the criminal conduct. These cases often hinge on whether the operator/owner received any prior reports of criminal conduct at or near the garage. Were there prior robberies or assaults? Did customers make prior complaints about unknown people loitering in and around the garage?
If there is such evidence, then the next question becomes, what steps did the garage owner/operator take to address the problem? For instance, did the owner beef up security, post warnings, etc.? Oftentimes, parking garage owners fail to take such steps and simply ignore the problem. Then, a customer becomes the victim of a crime, and the owner would likely be held liable.
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