In Modbury Triangle Shopping Centre the High Court held
that occupiers of land have no duty to prevent harm to somebody
lawfully on the land from the criminal behaviour of a third party.
That principle has now been revisited by the Victorian Court of
Appeal in Karatjas v Deakin University.
The plaintiff worked in a cafeteria on Deakin's Melbourne
campus which was operated by the Spotless Group. The plaintiff was
obliged to park a considerable distance from the cafeteria and
would often walk alone to her car after nightfall. Her normal route
to the carpark was along a well lit path. However, after Deakin
erected barricades over the path for a student function the
plaintiff was forced to take another path which was not well lit
and which passed through bushes where there had been reports of a
The plaintiff was attacked by an unknown assailant while walking
to her car along this path and was injured. At first instance her
action against Deakin was unsuccessful. On the basis of the Modbury
Triangle principle, the judge directed the jury to dismiss the
claim. Her Honour found that Deakin, as occupier, owed no duty to
the plaintiff to protect her from the criminal behaviour of third
On appeal the plaintiff successfully argued that she had a
special relationship with Deakin which was akin to an employment
relationship. The Court of Appeal accepted that Modbury Triangle
could be could be distinguished because Deakin exerted control over
where the plaintiff parked and the route taken to and from the
carpark. This gave rise to a special, employment-like relationship
which obliged Deakin to take reasonable care to secure the
plaintiff's safety when she was walking to and from the
It was noted that Deakin had encouraged employees of the
cafeteria to park in a remote, dimly lit carpark towards the edge
of the campus which was accessed in darkness via a dimly lit and
overgrown path. These circumstances created a clearly foreseeable
risk of an assault, especially to a woman. The Court of Appeal
remitted the proceeding to the County Court for retrial on the
question of whether Deakin had in fact breached its duty of care to
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