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Dr. Mathew Willson killed in bed from stray bullet fired at Buford Heights

Could the owners of Buford Heights be liable when a shot fired on their property killed a visiting doctor who was staying at another apartment complex?

A British doctor visiting the United States was killed in his sleep when a bullet penetrated the apartment he was staying in after being fired from  neighboring apartment complex Buford Heights.  Police were called to the scene while Kate Shepard, the victim’s girlfriend, was attempting to render aid. Dr. Mathew Willson was rushed to the hospital where he died of a gunshot wound to the head.  Police believe the bullet was discharged recklessly, and the victim’s sister stated “they were just shooting a gun for fun.  And they don’t know they’ve taken such a beautiful person from us.” 

Georgia Negligent Security Law

When property owners ignore previous incidents of crime on their premises and fail to take the security precautions needed to protect residents and guests from foreseeable threats, they could be held liable for damages in the wake of violent crime. If crime is a foreseeable issue on the property, these landlords and property managers are required by Georgia law to take reasonable security measures. Visible security cameras, onsite security, perimeter fencing with access-controlled gates, and even a security station at the entrance gate are all reasonable measures that property owners might be required to take to curtail crime on their premises. Property owners can be held accountable even when crime spills out onto adjacent properties. 

A History of Crime at Buford Heights 

11Alive reports that on Friday November 22, 2021, Cesar Gobinez-Naba was killed at Buford Heights by three teenagers who were charged with armed robbery as well as felony murder.

Online reviews are scant, but warn prospective residents of lackluster management and problems at the property.  One resident cautions that the complex is “the worst place to live in.” Another complains that “Maintenance is terrible, I have [had] more than a week with air conditioning that does not work.” 

When apartment managers ignore resident concerns over maintenance issues, insect infestations, and other matters of upkeep, it could signify that they are also lax in their duty to keep their communities safe. 

Only Crime Victims Can Demand Justice

Law enforcement may be able to catch the perpetrators and charge them in a criminal court of law, but there is little that police can do when apartment complexes become safe havens for criminal activity.  The families of the victims can bring an action against a landlord or management company in civil court, where they might secure a monetary judgement.  A judgement cannot bring their loved ones back, but it can help with funeral expenses, the loss of wages, and even provide funds to relocate to a safer area.  Perhaps more importantly, such a blow against the landlord could convince them, and others by example, that it is cheaper to maintain safer communities than to skimp on security measures..  By holding landlords accountable, together, we can Make Atlanta Safe, one community at a time. 

We believe that when violent crime occurs on a property, the owners and management should be held accountable if they were aware of the risk, if they failed to warn patrons and guests, and if they did not implement reasonable security measures. The law is on our side. But only the survivors of violent crimes and the families of victims can stand up and demand justice. We can help.

It is up to survivors and their families to demand justice.

Only the survivors of violent crimes or the families of victims can use the civil court system to hold property owners and managers accountable when they fail to take reasonable precautions to protect tenants and guests from known threats. By holding them accountable, we can motivate property owners to make meaningful changes to prevent violent crime from happening to others. In that way, together, we can help Make Atlanta Safe.

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