Recently, the state’s high court issued an opinion in a claim stemming from a Virginia premises liability lawsuit. The case arose when a woman was shot and killed while visiting her mother’s home. According to the claim, the defendant was visiting his grandparents’ home when they permitted him to practice shooting in the direction of the victim’s mother’s residence. One of the bullets the defendant shot went through the woman’s home and struck the victim. The victim’s personal representative filed a lawsuit claiming that the grandparents “knew or should have known” that firing bullets in the direction of their home would go through the trees and strike anyone located in or around the residence. In response, the defendants filed a demurrer, arguing that they did not owe the mother or any of her visitors a duty. Additionally, they claimed that they were immune under Virginia’s Recreational Land Use Act.
The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the defendants had a duty to ensure the reasonable safety of that outside of their property and prevent the direct harm from their affirmative actions. Virginia premises liability cases hinge on whether the negligent party owed a duty to the person who is seeking recovery. The imposition of duty does not solely rest on foreseeability. Rather, inquiries regarding whether a duty exists depend on the totality of the circumstances and include analyzing the likelihood of injury, the burden of preventing the injury, and the consequences of imposing a duty on the negligent party.
Generally, landowners are subject to liability for harm to individuals outside of their land when the injury results because of the owner’s activities on their property. However, this duty typically applies to land occupiers, not third parties on the premises. As such, typically, landowners do not have a duty to protect others from harmful acts of third parties on their property.