Virginia Special Duties of Protection: Elevated – a Lawyer’s Overview

placeholder image big

This is the second in a three-post series covering Virginia legal duties of care to protect against third-party criminal acts resulting in wrongful death, brain injury, and other personal injuries. In Taboada v. Daly Seven, Inc., 271 Va. 313, 327-328 (2006) on reh. 273 Va. 269 (2007), the Virginia Supreme Court held circuit court erred in sustaining a demurrer to an amended motion for judgment predicated on the duty and responsibility of an innkeeper to a “guest” (versus “business invitee”) for injuries sustained in a criminal assault by a third party on the innkeeper’s premises, where the innkeeper was on notice of its guests being in general danger of injury from prior similar criminal acts, making the act in question “reasonably foreseeable” (even though there was no warning in particular about it).

On an “issue of first impression,” the Virginia Supreme Court in Taboada found that innkeeper and guest presented a special relationship with an elevated “duty of ‘utmost care and diligence’ to protect the guest against reasonably foreseeable injury from the criminal conduct of a third party.” 271 Va. at 327. Taboada first observed that a common carrier’s duty of care to passengers was justified “because the passenger entrusts their safety to the carrier,” which his superior knowledge and ability about conditions and dangers. “This imbalance of knowledge and control warrants imposition of a duty on a common carrier ‘to protect its passengers against violence or disorderly conduct on the part of its own agents, or other passengers or strangers, when such violence or misconduct may be reasonably expected and prevented”. Id. at 325.

Taboada then likened common carrier passengers to innkeeper guests to impose the same duty of care.“[T]he guest of an innkeeper entrusts his safety to the innkeeper and has little ability to control his environment. The guest relies upon the innkeeper to make the property safe and the innkeeper’s knowledge of the neighborhood in taking the reasonably necessary precautions to do so. In this regard, it is reasonable for the law to impose upon the innkeeper, as a common carrier, a duty to take reasonable precautions to protect his guests against any injury caused by the criminal conduct on the part of other guests or strangers if the danger of injury by such conduct is known to the innkeeper or reasonably foreseeable.” Id. at 325-326. The Virginia Supreme Court in Taboadadelineated that the requisite “notice of a specific danger” equated to the “concept of a reasonably foreseeable danger,” not the heightened degree of foreseeability if an “imminent probability of harm”. Id. at 327 (emphasis added). The plaintiff’s allegations of repeated prior criminal incidents on-premises over a protracted period satisfied the requirement of “notice that its guests were in danger of injury caused by similar criminal acts of third parties”. Id.