Is a Landowner Liable for ''Foreseeable Murder'' on the Premises ?

In Dickinson Arms-Reo, L.P. v. Campbell, 4 S.W.3d 333, 335-36 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1999, pet. filed), juveniles who had earlier attended a gang party at an apartment in the same complex murdered a tenant's guest during a carjacking on the complex property. In a three and one-half year period, the complex had experienced 184 reported offenses. Id. at 340. A resident who was also a part-time leasing agent at the complex had reported to higher management that many nonresidents were on the premises in the evenings, "taking over" the pool and laundry area. She considered these strangers dangerous to her and her children. Id. An assault had occurred only five days before the carjacking/murder. Id. at 339. Under those facts, the appellate court upheld a jury finding that the carjacking/murder was foreseeable. For a risk to be foreseeable, there must be evidence of criminal activity within the specific area at issue, either on the landowner's property or nearby. Timberwalk Apartments, Partners, Inc. v. Cain, 972 S.W.2d 749 (Tex. 1997). The opinion in Timberwalk noted that most courts have looked to narrow geographic areas in analyzing the foreseeability of criminal conduct. Timberwalk, 972 S.W.2d at 758. Statistics regarding large or undefined geographic areas do not by themselves make crime foreseeable at a specific location. Id. Appellees' evidence showed the property had experienced four robberies of desk clerks over a twelve-year period. the robberies did not result in any injuries to employees or guests. In 1982 or 1983, a wife stabbed her husband during an altercation between the two that occurred on the property. Appellant's evidence, on the other hand, relied on statistics for the census tract in which the Hotel was located, an admittedly large area. Appellant's evidence does not create a fact issue on the frequency of crime under Timberwalk. "Foreseeability is the beginning, not the end, of the analysis in determining the extent of the duty to protect against criminal acts of third parties." Timberwalk, 972 S.W.2d at 756. The factors to consider in determining foreseeability are: whether any criminal conduct previously occurred on or near the property; how recently the criminal conduct occurred; how often crime has occurred; how similar the conduct was to the conduct on the property; what publicity was given the occurrences to show that the landowner knew or should have known about them. See Timberwalk, 972 S.W.2d at 757. These factors are to be analyzed together in determining whether criminal conduct was foreseeable. Timberwalk, 972 S.W.2d at 758.