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Premises Liability and Sexual Assault

If you've read any of our articles on premises liability you know that the property owners have a duty to keep guests safe when they are visiting the premises. This doesn't mean property owners would always be responsible in cases of sexual assault, but there are many instances where they could be. This article will cover the responsibilities of the property owners, what they owe to each type of visitor, and how these laws are viewed in cases of sexual assault.

Invitee- In cases where a visitor is an invitee, (tenant, customer, and anywhere there is mutual benefit between property owner and visitor) there must be a high standard of care. The property owner must go above and beyond to make sure the visitor is safe. If you live in an apartment, this means all safety and inspection codes must be met. All railings and stairs must be sound and secure, and all pools must be surrounded by a fence, etc. However, beginning on June 12, 2015, the Texas Supreme Court found that business owners are only liable for non-obvious hazards that the employer knew about and the employee did not. Yet in criminal activity instances, such as sexual assault, invitees must still be warned regardless of whether or not the danger is obvious.

In cases of sexual assault, property owners need to take the proper precautions for protecting visitors from these types of attacks. For example, many businesses and apartment complexes install security cameras to monitor the parking lots, install security gates, or hire on-site security officers. Any property owners who lease houses or apartments must do background checks to make sure any past sex offenders are registered. If a property owner has had past incidents and does nothing to prevent them in the future, they would be held liable for cases of sexual assault. Employees may also hold their employers liable if there is a sexual harassment complaint that is not taken seriously, or if negligent hiring or supervision was a contributing factor to the crime.

Licensee- A licensee is someone who visits a premises for their own benefit. The most common example of a licensee is a house guest. A visitor that comes to the premises as a guest (friend or family member) is owed a standard duty of care. The property owner must make sure the premises is free of any dangerous conditions and that the visitors are generally safe, warning the visitors of any hazards that are not obvious.

The category of licensee is very important in cases of sexual assault, because according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, over 75% of sexual assault cases occur in a residence or home. In a case where a parent or guardian is aware of their child's history of sexual assault, they must make sure the child is supervised at all times and not left alone with any other children. The highest percentage of offenders of sexual assault cases in Texas are between ages 15 and 19, so many of these offenders are still living at home with their parents.

Trespasser-The trespasser is owed the least amount of duty since they aren't invited to the property. However, children and innocent trespassers are owed a higher standard of care than a typical trespasser would be. The property owners owe the duty to make sure there are no inconspicuous dangerous conditions, or again, that no one with a history of sexual assault is left unattended. The property must also properly secure any attractive nuisances (pools, playground equipment, etc), which may attract child trespassers to an unsafe area.

When Alcohol Plays a Role in Sexual Assault

According to the 2013 report by the Texas Department of Public Safety, almost 11% of sexual assault cases involve alcohol. In these cases, the alcohol provider (a bar or an individual) may be held liable if the offender and/or victim were over-served, if their BAC was over the legal limit of alcohol, and if the alcohol was a contributing factor in the crime.

When to Take Legal Action Against a Property Owner

After a serious crime such as sexual assault, many people are left with questions. Most people pursue cases to find out what happened, and so that they can prevent future crimes by holding those responsible liable for their actions. If you or someone you love was the victim of sexual assault, remember that your call with us is always confidential, and that we are here to answer your questions, even if you're not ready to file a claim. We can be reached at any time by calling (855)326-0000.