Thank you NAACP of Georgia

I was honored to have been given the opportunity to speak with the Georgia NAACP this past Saturday morning about the problem of sexual assault.

It was an emotional event for me, but as this Sexual Assault Awareness Month draws to a close, I could not be happier to be involved in this conversation.

It is a conversation we must continue to have as we repeatedly remind ourselves that 1 out of every 6 girls will, on her journey through this life, find herself the victim of a rape or an attempted rape…

1 out of every 6 girls.

Thank you to Dr. Francys Johnson (President, Georgia NAACP) and Dr. Meca Williams-Johnson for inviting me to participate.  I am forever indebted to you.

Can you get sued if someone is raped in your Airbnb listed space?

Airbnb, the popular space-sharing site, is a fantastic way to visit far away places and host others in your community and home. 

But bad things can happen too.  What if something unseemly, violent, or harmful happens in your airbnb space when you’re not even there — can you be held legally responsible? 

The short answer is maybe.

If you list your space on Airbnb or other site and make it available to guests for a charge, you have a duty to protect them from certain dangers — in particular, dangers that they might not perceive for themselves.

In other words, you are not responsible for ensuring the absolute safety of the people you host (by providing a bodyguard, fitting them for protective armor, or enrolling them in self-defense courses).  The law does not expect you to be an insurer of their safety.

So, if, unbeknownst to you, your guests decide to host a frat party on your space, and someone is sexually assaulted, raped, or some other crime is committed, then no, it is not likely you could be held legally responsible (unless, of course, you had reason to believe or suspect it was going to happen and did nothing to prevent it).

However, under the law you are responsible for taking reasonable precautions and warning your guests of dangers of which they might not be aware.

For instance, if you know that there is an escaped convict on the loose and that there has been a string of violent break-ins and instances of rape in the neighborhood, then you must, at minimum, warn your guests so they know to be extra careful.  If you say nothing, and your guest falls victim, then you may be held legally responsible.

The responsibility to protect your guests comes from knowing about a risk of danger that goes above and beyond the general risk of living in this world.

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So, you don’t need to warn of general dangers like watching for cars when crossing the street, or being careful with knives when slicing tomatoes.  But you do need to warn of risks that would not be as apparent to them — and of which you know about because you live there.

It’s all about the dangers that you know about — and that your guests don’t.

The basis for legal liability in these types of situations is the host’s ‘superior knowledge’ of a dangerous condition; whether violent criminals on the loose, vicious animals, a higher incidence of crime in the neighborhood, a rash of car break-ins, or a series of armed home break-ins.
If you know of a danger in your space or neighborhood that should warrant your guests taking extra safety precautions, then under the law you have a duty to warn them.
And if you don’t, and something bad happens, it could lead to a lawsuit.

L.B. v. Naked Truth: the naked truth about the so-called targeted-crime defense.

A woman was working the overnight shift as a clerk at an adult video store…

At around 5:30am, a man entered the store.

After walking to the back of the store, the man returned to the front counter, pointed his gun at the woman, and ordered her to give him the money from the register.

He then raped her.

The crime was investigated.  And, the store’s history with criminal violence came to light.

As it turns out, this was not the store’s first rodeo.  

The location had previously been the target of at least four successful armed robberies.  One of these had taken place only two months before the robbery in which the woman was raped.

The woman filed suit against the store, believing that what happened to her was foreseeable and could have been prevented.

The store was shocked by the suggestion.

At trial, they brought in an expert who declared that what happened to her, in fact, could not have been foreseen by them.  In the expert’s opinion, the store’s owner could not have possibly imagined this was going to happen.  This crime, they argued … well, this crime was special.

This, you see, was a victim-targeted crime.

The targeted crime defense, as it has been applied by some courts, is the notion that there is a subset of crimes that are special snowflakes.  Unlike regular crimes, the reasoning goes, these special crimes are not foreseeable and therefore cannot be prevented.

Why?

Because unlike regular crimes, these victims were hand-selected by the assailant.

And so, the argument goes, a store or business, or any other establishment that ordinarily would have had a duty to provide protection, is now off the hook. They can wash their hands of the entire matter. Not their problem.

Because this victim was targeted.

In the woman’s case, the assailant had been found. A man named Jose McCrary.

The woman did not know him.

But this fact – this undisputed fact that the woman did not know the man – was a minor insignificant detail, the store argued. A trifle.

Because the assailant “knew” her.

More specifically, the store introduced evidence from a co-worker at the store who said the assailant had come into the store a few days prior to the assault and had asked for the woman.

BOOM.

This, the store said, is proof that the woman had been specifically targeted, and so, what could the store have possibly done? How could they have possibly known?

The store won at trial.

On appeal, one of the issues the woman raised was what difference does it make that the assailant had already spotted me?

In response, the store maintained that they were entitled to win because, you know, targeted-crime defense.

Forget that the store had been the targeted for prior armed robberies.

Forget that this woman was working the overnight shift at their adult retail store.

Forget that the assailant had robbed the store before raping her.

Forget all of that, they argued, what matters is that the assailant had set his sights on the woman.

This means, they argued, that there was no possible way the store — an adult retail store— could have known that this woman was at risk for being raped.

The co-worker’s statement is proof, they argued, that the store could not have foreseen the rape.

And it is proof, they said, that there is nothing the store could have done to prevent it.

And the court agreed that the co-worker’s testimony could be proof of that.


 

From the decision L.B. v. Naked Truth III, 117 So.3d 1114 (2012), the co-worker’s testimony:

Yes. I mentioned a gentleman who actually—he stood out because he did something that normal customers don’t do. He walked into the Store. He stopped in front of the ATM machine. … He asked me, was [she] working, and I told him, “She doesn’t work this shift anymore,” and he made a face and turned around and walked out the door.