In Modbury Triangle Shopping Centre the High Court held that occupiers of land have no duty to prevent harm to somebody lawfully on the land from the criminal behaviour of a third party. That principle has now been revisited by the Victorian Court of Appeal in Karatjas v Deakin University.
The plaintiff worked in a cafeteria on Deakin’s Melbourne campus which was operated by the Spotless Group. The plaintiff was obliged to park a considerable distance from the cafeteria and would often walk alone to her car after nightfall. Her normal route to the carpark was along a well lit path. However, after Deakin erected barricades over the path for a student function the plaintiff was forced to take another path which was not well lit and which passed through bushes where there had been reports of a man loitering.
The plaintiff was attacked by an unknown assailant while walking to her car along this path and was injured. At first instance her action against Deakin was unsuccessful. On the basis of the Modbury Triangle principle, the judge directed the jury to dismiss the claim. Her Honour found that Deakin, as occupier, owed no duty to the plaintiff to protect her from the criminal behaviour of third parties.
On appeal the plaintiff successfully argued that she had a special relationship with Deakin which was akin to an employment relationship. The Court of Appeal accepted that Modbury Triangle could be could be distinguished because Deakin exerted control over where the plaintiff parked and the route taken to and from the carpark. This gave rise to a special, employment-like relationship which obliged Deakin to take reasonable care to secure the plaintiff’s safety when she was walking to and from the carpark.
It was noted that Deakin had encouraged employees of the cafeteria to park in a remote, dimly lit carpark towards the edge of the campus which was accessed in darkness via a dimly lit and overgrown path. These circumstances created a clearly foreseeable risk of an assault, especially to a woman. The Court of Appeal remitted the proceeding to the County Court for retrial on the question of whether Deakin had in fact breached its duty of care to the plaintiff.
Karatjas v Deakin University  VSCA 53
The principle that occupiers have no duty to prevent harm to people on their land from the criminal behaviour of a third party is susceptible of being distinguished where the facts of the case so permit.