Many victims of crimes are not aware that they may have a valid civil claim against the owner of the property where the crime occurred. While this does not apply to every crime victim, it is worth considering.
If someone has been the victim of a crime and been injured or killed during the commission of that crime, the property owner or operator of the business may be held liable if it can be shown there was negligent security on the property.
What Is “Negligent Security?”
Negligent Security is a subset of premises liability law. Generally, premises liability law says that the owner of a property has a duty to maintain that property in a reasonably safe condition to
prevent harm to others. As a homeowner, for example, if you know of a hazard on your property, such as an unsafe stairway, you have a duty to repair that or be liable for any injuries suffered because of that unsafe stairway. You are responsible because you could reasonably foresee that someone might get hurt on those stairs.
The same concept applies to business owners. If they know there is a wet floor in front of the produce section at the grocery store, and they fail to warn customers of that hazard and fail to clean it up, they are responsible for the injuries that situation caused. If someone slips and falls and they are injured, the business is usually liable.
The concept of negligent security takes the duty imposed on business owners further. If a business owner (or operator) knows of an unsafe security issue, and fails to take steps to remedy that problem, they may be liable for a victim’s injuries occurring on that property from criminal activity. There are a variety of situations where negligent security claims might arise. We will take a look at specific examples below.
Stores, Shopping Malls, Parking Garages, ATM Sites
Probably one of the most common claims for negligent security comes about in the context of crimes occurring at shopping malls, parking garages and ATM sites. The story is usually similar: the perpetrator follows someone to their car or ATM, mugs them and injures them. The victim sues the property owners and managers for failing to provide adequate security to its customers. Deterrents to these types of crimes are security personnel, cameras and, in the case of ATMs, restricted access.
Hotels, Motels, Cruise Ships
These businesses have an obligation to their customers to provide a safe environment. Adequate lighting in the parking lots, restricted access to the rooms and providing security personnel are all measures which could be taken to prevent crimes.
Background checks should be performed on potential employees to ensure that criminals are not being hired. Often this is not done, a person is hired who shouldn’t be, and something happens, such as a guest is assaulted or otherwise injured.
Apartments & Condominiums
The owners of apartment buildings and the management company of a condominium complex (and sometimes the homeowners association) have a duty to keep the residence safe. This means having adequate lighting in any parking structure and hallways, restricted access for residents and guests only, and possibly even providing security personnel and surveillance cameras.
Increasingly there is violent crime on college campuses, and the colleges have a duty to their students and staff to take measures to prevent these crimes. An adequate number of security personnel with sufficient protocols would be one measure the school could take. Well lighted walkways, emergency phones located around campus, working lock systems and regular security patrols all help provide additional safety measures. Some schools even offer to walk students to their cars in the parking lots to ensure safety.
Sometimes a school has had threats or warnings of criminal activity yet to come. If the school has had such notice, and ignored it, then liability for harm done to students and staff may attach. The reasoning here is that with the threat or warnings comes foreseeability, and there were measures that should have been taken, but were not.
Nightclubs, Restaurants, Concert Venues
There have been a number of violent incidents inside and outside nightclubs in recent years. Just recently a celebrity chef who cooked for professional athletes was shot in a bar in Miami, and subsequently died. Owners of bars, nightclubs, restaurants and similar businesses (such as concert venues) have a duty to protect their patrons from assault, battery and other injuries at the hands of their employees and third parties, such as other patrons and vendors. This also means they must not only have good security inside the club, but they must provide adequate security outside the venue, such as in the parking lots.
The security personnel must be well-trained and in sufficient number to keep the peace in the club. They often have to deal with drunken and confrontational customers, fights, and sometimes, overzealous employees. They are responsible for monitoring the doors and exits, checking identification and ensuring no weapons enter the club. (In Florida it is illegal for a person to carry a concealed weapon in an establishment that serves liquor). There is liability for negligent hiring in this situation, too, or for retaining someone with a known propensity for violence.
Unfortunately, there are many stories of workplace violence in the news today. If there were not adequate security measures in place to protect workers from the violence, there may be a valid claim against the employer and the owner of the property. Some types of security measures in these cases would be requiring proper identification before entering a building, having security personnel on duty, security cameras in place (and working!) and a restricted access to the workplace.
For these cases, each situation is different and must be analyzed according to the circumstances. Obviously a fast food establishment is not going to have restricted access – they want people to come into the business – however, in high crime areas they may need to hire security guards. The nuances of each situation are something that an attorney experienced in this area of law will be able to analyze.
How to Prove It?
In investigating and prosecuting these types of cases, the law firm should of course examine the physical scene of the crime and which security measures are in place – and which are not. Police reports should be examined to determine if there had been numerous crimes committed in the area of which the owner should have been aware.
The critical point in a successful negligent security case is convincing the judge or jury that the property owner had knowledge of the hazard, failed to take adequate security measures and the danger or risk of injury was reasonably foreseeable. This is not always an easy task, but attorneys experienced in this area of law know how they must proceed to prove the case.
Just the Beginning
This discussion is really just a brief overview of the Negligent Security discussion. There are many more scenarios and types of property that give rise to a claim for Negligent Security. Additionally, if there were professional security personnel on the premises and they somehow failed in their duty to keep patrons or residents safe, such as sleeping on the job, or ignoring camera feeds, then the security company could also be a defendant.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed during the commission of a crime, you may have a case against the owner of the property. Keep in mind not every crime gives rise to this type of lawsuit. Attorneys experienced in this area of law will be able to assess the situation and advise you accordingly.