On July 1, 2019, Mississippi’s Landowner Protection Act (the “LPA”) went into effect and significantly changed Mississippi premises liability law. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-1-66.1. The LPA codified pre-existing common law and defined the level and type of proof necessary to establish a premises liability claim based on the intentional conduct of a third party. Id. By limiting a landowner’s liability to the specifically defined instances discussed below, the LPA made it more difficult for Mississippi plaintiffs to bring a successful premises liability lawsuit based on injuries sustained at a landowner’s business premises as a result of a third-party’s intentional criminal or tortious actions.
PRIOR TO THE LANDOWNERS PROTECTION ACT, AN “ATMOSPHERE OF VIOLENCE” + A BUSINESS INVITEE BEING INJURED BY A THIRD-PARTY’S CRIMINAL OR TORTIOUS ACTION = LANDOWNER LIABILITY.
Prior to the enactment of the LPA, a Mississippi plaintiff could bring a successful premises liability claim and recover damages for injuries sustained at a business as a result of a third-party’s intentional criminal or tortious actions by establishing that:
- the plaintiff was a business invitee (a person who lawfully entered a commercial premises for the purpose of doing business),
- the business had a duty to warn or protect the plaintiff from a known dangerous condition (the third-party’s intentional criminal or tortious act), and
- the business failed to warn or make safe the dangerous condition which caused the plaintiff’s injury. Kroger Co. v. Knox, 98 So. 3d 441 (Miss. 2012).
To prove the existence of a business’s duty to warn or protect its patrons from third-party acts of violence, prior to the LPA, a Mississippi plaintiff could use evidence of criminal activity in the general vicinity of a business’s premises to demonstrate that a pattern or “atmosphere of violence” existed on the business’s premises. Rogers v. Sunbelt Mgmt. Co., 52 F. Supp. 3d 816 (S.D. Miss. 2014). If an “atmosphere of violence” was established, then the business had “cause to anticipate” third-party criminal or tortious conduct. Id. at 823. As a result, third-party acts of violence were considered foreseeable to the business under the law, and a plaintiff who suffered injuries at the hands of a third-party on the defendant business’s premises could prevail and recover damages from the defendant business in a premises liability lawsuit because the defendant business breached its duty to warn or protect its patrons from a known danger. Id.
THE LANDOWNERS PROTECTION ACT LIMITS A LANDOWNER’S LIABILITY FOR THIRD-PARTY CRIMINAL OR TORTIOUS ACTIONS AND NARROWS THE PARAMETERS FOR WHAT CONSTITUTES AN “ATMOSPHERE OF VIOLENCE”.
When the LPA went into effect on July 1, 2019, the premises liability law analysis in Mississippi significantly changed. Under the LPA, anyone who owns, leases, operates, or maintains a commercial property in Mississippi is immune from civil liability for injuries caused by a third party’s intentional criminal or tortious conduct (assault, battery, etc.), so long as the landowner or occupier did not “actively and affirmatively, with a degree of conscious decision-making, impelled [set in motion] the conduct of said third-party.” Miss. Code Ann. § 11-1-66.1(1)(b).
Furthermore, under the LPA, the scenario in which a landowner will be deemed to have had constructive notice of the potential for a third-party’s criminal or tortious actions is considerably reduced due to the narrowed definition of an “atmosphere of violence”. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-1-66.1(3). Now, instead of looking at the general vicinity of the business’s premises to determine whether an “atmosphere of violence” existed at the time a third-party’s violent actions caused injuries to a business’s patron, the law looks to the business premises itself. Id. Under the LPA, an “atmosphere of violence” will only be deemed to have existed at a landowner’s property if, within three (3) years of the subject injury, there were three (3) or more separate events or incidents on a business’s premises which resulted in three (3) or more arraignments of an individual for a felony involving an act of violence. Id. This codified version of what constitutes an “atmosphere of violence” greatly decreases the chance that a plaintiff will be able to prove that a landowner could foresee the possibility of a third-party’s tortious or criminal actions.
Mississippi landowners who are considering granting access to their land for commercial purposes would be wise to first consult with an attorney to review the provisions of the Landowner Protection Act in detail.
If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please reach out to one of the attorneys in our Gulfport, MS office
Disclaimer: This article is meant for reference only, and is not intended to be legal advice. For legal counsel regarding your specific situation, please consult an attorney licensed in your state.