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As parents have told children many times, "Don't talk to strangers." In this case, it's "Don't buy from strangers on Craigslist unless you're at a safe zone."
A pregnant Colorado woman was attacked when she responded to a Craigslist ad to buy baby clothes. The victim went to the seller's house alone. While there, the seller stabbed the victim in the stomach and cut out her fetus. The victim survived the stabbing after calling police. Unfortunately, the fetus died.
This is only another in a long line of stories where buyers were attacked or killed by sellers they met on Craigslist. Recognizing the need for a safe place to complete Craigslist transactions, many police departments around the country have designated their parking lots or lobbies as safe zones. Conshohocken, Philadelphia claims to have created the nation's first Craigslist Transaction Safe Zone last year.
While it is reassuring to have a safe place to conduct face to face transactions, who is liable if you still get attacked at a "safe zone"?
Third Party Premise Liability
The principle of third party premise liability holds property owner's liable for harm done to a visitor by a third party while on the property owner's land. This principle only applies if the harm is foreseeable or the property owner had notice of possible harm. Essentially, if harm by a third party is foreseeable, property owners must take reasonable steps to protect visitors.
In the case of the safe zones, police clearly know that Craigslist transactions could be dangerous for buyers and sellers. That's why they set up these safe zones in the first place. Police departments are inviting people to come to their parking lots and lobbies to conduct these face to face transactions so that people can be safer. The police definitely have notice of possible harm.
Are the police departments taking reasonable steps to ensure safety? In Boone County, Indiana, people are encouraged to either do the transactions indoors during business hours or in the parking lot after hours. The parking lot only provides lighting and video surveillance. Is that enough protection?
State Government Immunity
Of course, this worry may be moot because of state government immunity statutes. Some state statutes limit government liability to only cases involving "special defects." These cases involve defects that present unusual and unexpected dangers. Some state statutes required a lower standard of care than usually required.
So, whether or not a police department can be liable for harm done by Craigslist attackers in its safe zones may also vary according to state government immunity statutes.
There have not yet been any reports of attacks occurring at safe zones, so there is no definite answer on whether or not the police will be liable if a buyer or seller is attacked at a safe zone. Hopefully, it stays that way.