Negligent security is a subcategory of premises liability that addresses criminal activity. Just as property owners must keep their stairs in good repair and avoid leaving wet and slippery spots on their floors, they also have a duty to protect patrons and employees with good security measures. This may include security cameras, alert systems, entry keypads, and good lighting so that people on the premises may have better ability to perceive any possible dangers around them.
A property owner is liable for the safety of anyone who is lawfully on the property, including business invitees, customers, or tenants.
How Negligent Security Claims Arise
There’s a possibility that negligent security played a role if a plaintiff was lawfully present on the property and hurt by the criminal act of another. Businesses in high-crime neighborhoods are the most common defendants in negligent security claims. If it’s known that crime is likely to occur on a property, there must be preventative measures taken to ensure the safety of those who have a right to be there. Failure to provide these can expose a business to liability.
These measures include ways of keeping employees safe. For example, security experts recommend that the best course of action during a robbery is to cooperate. If a business makes it impossible for an employee to open a cash register and provide that cooperation, the employer may be placing their employees and customers in extreme danger in exchange for protecting a little bit of money.
Safer neighborhoods are not immune to these lawsuits, either. Even if an area has a reputation for low crime, if there have been recent incidents of personal or property crime, a business owner must take measures to protect employees and customers or be subject to liability. If it would be reasonable to think that the current wave of crime could impact anyone on the premises, then the property owner has a duty to protect those on the property even in the shortest of crime waves.
Foreseeability is critical to all premise liability claims. A property owner has a responsibility to keep those on the premises safe so long as it’s reasonable to believe that anyone rightfully on the property could be exposed to immediate danger. Without foreseeability of harm, there is no liability. Thus, property owners aren’t liable for unforeseeable circumstances or possible means of harm.
To prevail in a negligent security case, a plaintiff must prove a landowner failed to take reasonable care in assessing the possibility of criminal activity, or to have failed to warn patrons or employees of possible crime.
Efforts to provide security are considered adequate based on the surrounding conditions. For example, an area with a high rate of violent crime may require trained security patrols and well-lit parking lots to meet the standard of reasonable care. If property crime is the main issue, better locks, coded keypads, and security cameras may be considered means of reasonable care.
Sometimes, what’s considered adequate security is defined by statute. For example, convenience stores are required by law to install security cameras, a notice visible to patrons that the cash register contains less than $50, and use a drop safe. If a convenience store follows the statutory requirements for security and still experiences a crime, they can’t be held liable for injuries sustained during the commission of that crime.
Florida is practically a hot bed for negligent security cases. Recent verdicts and settlements include:
- A $4,255,280 jury verdict awarded to an innocent bystander of a parking lot shooting at Boomers!, a children’s park in Dania Beach.
- A $5,876,809 verdict to the estate of a pharmacist who was shot by drug users. The company, Shands Jacksonville Medical Center, was aware of previous incidents involving threats to pharmacists and failed to undergo reasonable security measures to prevent this fatal attack.
- An apartment resident received a $1,826,000 verdict against her property owner when she jumped from a window to escape a convicted felon. The apartment building wasn’t located in a high crime area and plaintiff was considered partially at fault for letting a stranger into her home (she thought he was an air conditioning repair technician). The jury assigned 80 percent responsibility to the apartment building.
- A $9 million verdict to “Jane Doe” who was walking down the embankment of her housing development and ultimate slipped and fell, which resulted in a traumatic brain injury. Through extensive investigation, Kaire & Heffernan were able to discover that the homeowners association management was fully aware and on notice of the hazards and risks to pedestrians and runners who routinely utilized the bridge embankment as a shortcut. The management for the homeowners association was also aware of their ability to prevent these dangers as they fenced off the bridge railing in the weeks following this tragedy.
These verdicts show that even businesses in lower-crime areas can be vulnerable. The comparative negligence statute in Florida may reduce damages, as they did for the apartment resident above, but it doesn’t eliminate them. So, if a business could’ve done better to protect you as a customer, employee, or tenant, it’s likely you may file a successful negligent security claim.
Negligent security injuries may arise from almost everywhere, including children’s play areas and nightclubs. If you were harmed on a property where security was inadequate, you may be entitled to recover damages. Contact Kaire & Heffernan, LLC to speak to a lawyer. They can determine if you have a claim for negligent security and help you recover.