Gaining Some Perspective in Tort Law: A New Take on Third-Party Criminal Attack Cases

51 Pages Posted: 14 Jan 2011

See all articles by Martha Chamallas

Martha Chamallas

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Date Written: January 13, 2011


Despite the prominence of the objective "reasonable person standard" in tort doctrine, it is a mistake to conclude that perspective has no place in contemporary tort law. Although explicit perspectival standards, such as the "reasonable woman standard," have gained little acceptance in torts, the perspectives and experiences of non-dominant social groups have sometimes been taken into account in key contexts that involve "culturally polarized understandings of fact" and differing judgments about what constitutes reasonably safe behavior. Notably, the battle has not been over precise formulations of the duty to exercise reasonable care, but over whether to impose a duty to exercise reasonable care in the first instance.

This Article examines third-party criminal attack claims against landlords, businesses, employers, and other entities charged with negligence for failing to detect and remedy dangerous conditions and prevent sexual assaults and other criminal attacks on their premises. The victims in these cases are often women, racial minorities, and low-income residents of high-crime areas. The Article describes the lack of consensus in the courts as to whether defendants owe a duty to take reasonable measures to guard against crime and analyzes the recent position taken by the Restatement (Third) of Torts in favor of imposing a duty in all but exceptional cases. The Article endorses the willingness of some courts in sexual assault cases to impose a duty and articulate a concept of reasonable care that requires defendants to make their premises equally safe for men and women. It criticizes the line of cases which rejects a duty of due care in high-crime areas, excuses defendants from taking precautions proportionate to the risk, and thereby fails to express a norm of equal safety regardless of where a person resides.

Keywords: torts, race bias, gender bias, third-party attacks, reasonable person

JEL Classification: Tort Law and Product Liability

Suggested Citation

Chamallas, Martha, Gaining Some Perspective in Tort Law: A New Take on Third-Party Criminal Attack Cases (January 13, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Martha Chamallas (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

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