UDR Texas Properties, LP v. Petrie

Supreme Court of Texas, No. 15‐0197 (January 27, 2017) 

Justice Brown (Opinion linked here) Justice Willett (Concurrence linked here)

Alan Petrie was shot and robbed in the parking lot of his friend’s apartment complex at 2:00 one morning. He sued the apartment complex, claiming it had a duty to protect him from a foreseeable risk of crime. The trial court held the apartment complex had no duty to protect Petrie, but the Houston Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that Petrie produced evidence the apartment complex knew or should have known of a foreseeable and unreasonable risk of harm based on the five factors set out by the Texas Supreme Court in Timberwalk. The Supreme Court disagreed, noting that the Timberwalk factors go to foreseeability only and that Petrie also had to show the risk of crime was unreasonable. Once foreseeability is established, “the parameters of the duty must still be determined,” which is addressed by the element of unreasonableness. Unreasonableness “turns on the risk and likelihood of injury to the plaintiff … as well as the magnitude and consequences of placing a duty on the defendant.” A risk is therefore unreasonable only when “the risk of a foreseeable crime outweighs the burden placed on property owners—and society at large—to prevent the risk.” Because Petrie did not produce any evidence concerning the burden on the apartment complex to make the property safe and whether that burden was reasonable, the Court reversed and rendered judgment against him.

Justice Willett, joined by Justice Boyd, concurred in the judgment but wrote separately to address a problem that has “long vexed him” in these cases, which is that including elements of foreseeability and reasonableness in the trial court’s determination of “duty” seems to intrude on questions of negligence and proximate cause, which have traditionally been the province of the jury. Justice Willett did not purport to have an answer for his concerns, but rather wrote his concurrence “only to kindle further study from the bench, bar, and academy.”