When a person has become a victim of crime in a place where the property owner’s security measures should have prevented such crime, the property owner may be guilty of “negligent (or inadequate) security.” The tort of negligent security stems from the ancient legal concept of “premises liability,” which means simply that the owner of a premises owes a certain duty of care to the people he has invited or allowed onto the premises.
The owner should maintain his premises in a reasonably safe condition and should correct any dangerous conditions he knew about or should have known about if he had been reasonably careful. Furthermore, the owner must warn the people on his premises about any dangerous condition that he knows about that they might not know about. In other words, property owners have no right to invite or allow people onto their premises without warning or protection when the property owner knows or suspects the people could be hurt. If a property owner fails to meet his duties in this regard, he is said to be negligent and if that negligence results in harm to the people on his premises, he is liable.
Invitees and Licensees
This does not apply, of course, to people who come onto premises without permission. A grocery store, for example, invites customers into the store to purchase food. That is the purpose of the store – to engage with food customers. Therefore, the customers are called “invitees” in the law. There are others who may enter the store for others reasons – to socialize with the owner, to ask for directions, to chase a pet animal that darted into the store, etc. These entrants are called “licensees.” They do not come into the store for business purposes, but they generally have the owner’s permission or the owner could reasonably foresee that his store might be used for such reasons. These are the people to whom the owner owes a duty. If someone is a trespasser, a cat burglar, or some other unforeseeable, unreasonable entrant, the owner owes them no duty of care.
Slip-and-fall cases are the most common types of “premises liability” cases. Keep in mind, however, that the fact that there is a slippery substance on the ground or some other unsafe condition on the property does not alone prove that the owner was negligent. You would have to show that the owner was aware of the unsafe condition and failed to do anything about it. This is often what makes slip-and-fall cases difficult to win. It takes great effort to prove that a property owner knew about a slippery substance on the floor. Perhaps the substance was recently spilled and no one knew about it until the victim slipped.
In negligent security cases, crime is generally a matter of public record. Crimes are often reported to the police and to property owners. This makes it much easier to show that a property owner knew (or should have known) that crime was a problem on his property. If a person is victimized by crime and suffers damages and there had been other crimes reported on that property at previous times, and the property owner failed to enact sufficient security measures to prevent future crimes and failed to sufficiently warn people that crime was an issue, then that crime victim has a good chance of proving negligent security.
In recent years, Florida juries have awarded crime victims very large sums to compensate them for their losses caused by crimes that were the result of negligent security. In one case, a teenager was shot at Boomers! amusement park in Broward County and received a $4.27 million award. Other negligent security cases in Florida and abroad resulted in million dollar awards for victims of rapes, gunshots, and murder.
An Interesting Exception
Convenience store owners are presumed to not have any liability to crime victims on their premises as long as the owners implement a set of security measures mandated by the law. The lawmakers have seen fit to shift liability onto the customers who shop at convenience stores based on the theory that the customers are aware that convenience stores are often high crime places.
The security measures required by convenience stores are as follows:
- A security camera system capable of recording and retrieving an image to assist in offender identification and apprehension.
- A drop safe or cash management device for restricted access to cash receipts.
- A lighted parking lot illuminated at an intensity of at least two foot-candles per square foot at 18 inches above the surface.
- A conspicuous notice at the entrance which states that the cash register contains $50 or less.
- Window signage that allows a clear and unobstructed view from outside the building and in a normal line of sight of the cash register and sales transaction area.
- Height markers at the entrance of the convenience business which display height measures.
- A cash management policy to limit the cash on hand at all times after 11 p.m.
- Windows that are not tinted in a way that reduces exterior or interior view in a normal line of sight.
- A silent alarm to law enforcement or a private security agency, unless application for an exemption is made to and granted by the Attorney General.
Finally, if murder, robbery, sexual battery, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, or kidnapping or false imprisonment has occurred on the premises, the convenience store must enact even more security measures.