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Negligent Security Seminar | March 2015

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The Ultimate Guide to Negligent Security Lawsuits

Property owners and businesses are legally responsible for providing employees, customers, and  visitors with a safe environment on their property. If someone is victimized due to a lack of proper security, the owner or operator may be legally liable in a civil suit. Working with an experienced negligent security legal team will help you determine whether you have a case and how to pursue damages after an injury. 

We read regular reports in the news about mall shoppers who walk to their cars late a night and get shot or mugged. College students are sometimes victims of sexual assault in dorm rooms and other campus spaces. Violence also happens in places like office buildings, hotels, schools, shopping centers, convenience stores and other properties during a crime of opportunity. 

Businesses are responsible for providing reasonable security for their guests, whether it’s a targeted crime or something like injuries related to unruly crowds at a music concert (negligent crowd control). When they fail to implement security measures, they can face negligent security lawsuits that hold them responsible for damages. 

How do you know when you have a good chance of winning a negligent security lawsuit? If you’re not a security expert, it’s hard to tell whether there was adequate security. 

A lawyer specializing in negligent security cases will know how to gauge the security presence before and during an incident to decide whether the company or operator failed in their duty to protect. 

If you or someone you know was injured at a business, event, church, school, government facility, or some other property, talk to a lawyer to see whether someone else should be held liable for what happened. 

Pursuing a negligent security suit may be your best option for winning damages to cover medical bills, pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement mental anguish, lost income and other costs related to your injuries. 

Here is your ultimate guide to negligent security lawsuits. 

How a Negligent Security Lawsuit Works

Negligent security cases are typically built on the presumption that a commercial property owner or business knows more about safety threats than customers do. 

It makes sense. Owners usually track crimes on their property like theft, assault, etc. They know the neighborhood better as well. The current legal theory around negligent security posits that businesses best understand security threats and their dangers to guests on the property.  They are also in the best position to take action to prevent or deter crimes.

Premises Security has become a well-developed science.  There are many criminologists, sociologists, Certified Protection Professional (CPPs) and others with a high degree of knowledge in the field. They know what reasonable security measures should be in place for most premises.  There are also industry standards for security and minimum reasonable staffing and illumination for properties.

Florida imposes a duty on commercial property owners to take action to prevent crime and keep guests, residents, customers, and other visitors reasonably safe.  That includes knowing what is happening on and around their property and taking reasonable steps to keep it safe.

When someone is the victim of an assault, sexual battery, robbery, murder, and other attacks, negligent security cases help them seek damages for what happened. For example, if you’re hurt because a business or property didn’t have reasonable security and you were assaulted because of a lack of security, you can file a lawsuit to hold them responsible. 

Proving Negligence in a Negligent Security Case

How do you or your lawyers know when someone is negligent? Regarding negligent security, it’s true that many crimes CAN happen despite security measures in place.  Sometimes criminals are so brazen they disregard security guards, cameras, and gates. Or they’re especially cunning and know ways to bypass security. But most of the time when reasonable security is in place those opportunistic criminals are deterred and would choose a softer target (less security/easier victims).  The field of premises security and criminology has revealed that there is a science to how offenders choose targets and what they are looking for.

To prove a negligent security case, victims and their legal representatives must show the responsible party knew or should have known that this type of crime was reasonably foreseeable, failed to act reasonably, and their failure resulted in someone’s injuries or death.

Here’s what you must do to prove negligence:

  1. Establish a duty of care – You must show that the victim was legally on the property. For example, a hotel guest should prove they were a registered guest or otherwise legitimately in the hotel’s parking lot when they were mugged or assaulted.
  2. The crime was reasonably foreseeable The incident which caused the harm needs to have been reasonably foreseeable based on the knowledge of the owner/operator or by objective standards.  That may be proven by actual knowledge, constructive knowledge (“should have known”) and through evidence of prior crimes or criminal activity in the area.
  3. The liable party breached their duty of care – Demonstrate that the property owner or manager knew or should have known about local security threats and failed to take reasonable action. For example, if a company cuts security guard patrols to save money, that may show they breached their duty of care.  The fact that they never put security in at all may also show negligence, as would the failure to have reasonable lighting (illumination) or limited access where they should have. A good example is the failure to limit the public from getting onto guest floors in hotels at night.
  4. A breach of duty caused injuries – For example, a property owner’s failure to lock a gate or repair a security door that made a break-in possible on a college campus may be to blame for someone getting inside to commit a sexual assault.  Likewise, the failure to have reasonable security guards, or lighting, or limited access may be a breach of duty (negligence).
  5. The victim suffered damages related to the negligence – Victims must prove there were damaged from the failure to have reasonable security. Examples of damages include lost income from missed work, permanent injury, physical and mental pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life, medical bills, etc. 

Satisfying all four elements of negligence is usually complex. Depending on the case, it’s often challenging to show a breach of duty of care and how it directly resulted in injury and damages. 

An expert negligent security case legal team can help you build evidence to win in court or via settlement negotiations. 

Investigating a Negligent Security Claim

Pursuing negligent security claims takes time. Moreover, they’re more complex than many other types of personal injury lawsuits because it usually requires expert witnesses, investigation, cooperation with law enforcement and prosecutors, dealing with perpetrators and a criminal case, and establishing industry and property standards for practical security measures. 

Generally, this means a thorough investigation into safety conditions on the property, what they knew before the incident, and whether their actions constituted negligence. 

Here are some things you’ll need for an investigation:

An Expert Investigator 

Law firms frequently hire ex-police officers, private detectives, and others with extensive investigation experience. They know where to look, how to ask questions, and ways to conduct interviews with people to get the critical information for your case. 

Statistical Data

Proving negligent security usually demands a deep understanding of local security conditions. Your legal team will analyze local crime statistics to prove the liable parties should have known about crime or security threats and, as a result, invested in better security. 

Security Experience/Security Experts

The people involved in your negligent security case should have a working understanding of basic security principles. For example, normal people won’t know how often security guards should patrol a dark parking lot or what light levels are appropriate for a garage. They will not be familiar with post orders or static posts. Security experts are often brought into cases for expert witness testimony to show the property owner didn’t follow basic security principles. Experts are often necessary to establish the foreseeability of the crime as well as the breach of duty (negligence) and what security measures should have been in effect and how that would in all likelihood have prevented this harm.

Records

Finally, investigating negligent security claims requires getting access to and maintaining files related to the case. This can include criminal incident reports, crime grids, incident reports, medical files, police reports, witness statements, property damage, and other records. Again, your legal team should present them in a way that best supports your case for the best outcome. 

Common Examples of Negligent Security

If you’re not a security expert, how are you supposed to know what constitutes a lack of proper security? It’s challenging because most people only notice a lack of security when they suddenly need it. However, here are some of the most common types of negligent security we see. 

  • Poor lighting – Bright lights are an effective crime deterrent. Criminals prefer to work in the dark, where it’s harder for others to see what they’re doing. There are many studies showing that areas with poor lighting tend to have higher crime rates.
  • Poor access control – Access control covers doors, locks, gates, fences, walls, and other measures designed to keep unwanted people out. If doors are missing locks or there’s a lack of monitoring entryways, it may be negligent security. A great example is in hotels – key card systems are the industry standard so that criminals cannot re-use a key and access a guest room.  But many hotels broadcast what room someone is in and that can give criminals the edge they need so they can target a particular guest.  Make sure that when you check in to a hotel the staff does not announce your room and you are not followed up to your room.
  • Unkempt areas – This may surprise you, but negligent security can involve poor landscaping that leads to crime. If a property owner fails to cut the grass or bushes in the area, it may make it easier for criminals to target visitors.  With ATM machines, there is a law in Florida that requires minimum standards that include lighting and landscaping.
  • Poor training/supervision – Security guards who lack training will likely fail to respond well to any security incident.  When security guards are unsupervised or do not have appropriate post orders, they are much less effective and often worse than having no security at all.
  • Broken emergency systems – What if an emergency call button on a trail or campus fails to alert the police or security teams? 
  • Rundown equipment – In many cases, victims discover the security cameras in the area weren’t working at the time of an incident because they were turned off or broken because of inadequate maintenance. 
  • Poor screening/negligent hiring – Sometimes employees commit violent crimes, and if the employer has failed to properly screen that person or conduct a proper background check, they may be responsible for the criminal acts.

These are just some examples of negligent security. Talk to an experienced negligent security lawyer about what happened to you or a loved one to learn more about whether you have a case. 

What You Should Do After an Injury

The actions you take after an injury tied to possible negligent security will significantly impact the outcome of your case. Here’s what you should do after you or someone you know is injured in a negligent security case:

  1. Call the police – Call the police regardless of the situation. The police will investigate the scene, document evidence, and gather witness testimonies. They’ll file reports on what happened and the conditions at the time. 
  2. Go to the hospital – Get medical attention as soon as possible. If you don’t, the company or property owner can claim your injuries aren’t related to what happened during the incident. 
  3. Speak to an attorney – Talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. They’ll guide you in what to say and do to protect your interests in the future. 
  4. Don’t speak to the defendant or their representatives – Avoid discussions about what happened and what you’re doing with anyone but your attorney. The property owner’s lawyers and insurance providers often reach out to you. Then, they’ll use what you say use against you in court. 
  5. Follow Expert Counsel – Whether it’s the police, your attorney, or medical professionals, follow the advice from experts around you. They’ll help you avoid any missteps that could harm the outcome of your case. 

Most Common Places Where Negligent Security Cases Occur

Although violent crimes can take place almost anywhere, there are certain locations where negligent security cases occur most often.  Sometimes these are “crime magnets” (criminogenic locations) and some are not.  Many are in high crime areas but that is not a necessary requirement in all security cases.  Here are some examples:

Seeking Compensation for Negligent Security Cases

What kind of damages can you seek in a negligent security case? Generally, any compensation must relate directly to the incident and any subsequent damages. Here’s a basic breakdown of what you can file for in a negligent security case. 

  • Medical bills – Damages will cover everything from the initial emergency room trip to surgeries to years of physical therapy after an injury. Medical bills add up, and without compensation from liable parties, they can severely impact victims’ finances. 
  • Lost income – Injuries frequently make victims miss work because they’re in the hospital or unable to walk. Damages should cover any income losses during recovery. They should pay for missed work opportunities, and the long-term impact of lost salary due to permanent disability and other effects. 
  • Pain and Suffering, Disability, Disfigurement, Loss of Capacity to Enjoy Life – These are all elements of damage under Florida law which are recoverable if the case is proven. For someone with a serious permanent injury, a life long injury can cause chronic pain, scarring or disfigurement, and the inability to enjoy life the same was as they did before the violent assault.
  • Emotional Damage – Security incidents like sexual assault, a loved one’s murder, or a mugging are traumatic. People will often deal with the emotional impact of the incident long after they heal physically. Damages can cover therapy visits, medication costs, and other related expenses. 

How much money victims recover in their cases depend on several factors. For example, the degree of liability will play a large role in how much a property owner, business, or security company will pay. Likewise, different payments are made based on the injuries’ severity, the economic losses, available insurance coverage, and how blatant the negligence was. 

Again, working with an expert negligent security lawyer will help you know what to expect regarding compensation

Conclusion

When something like an assault happens, it’s essential to look at the whole picture. Lawyers help you know why it occurred and who may have been liable. Unfortunately, victims often wrongly assume that what happened to them was either bad luck or somehow their mistake. 

Resist the urge to self-blame and talk to an attorney who knows about cases like yours. They’ll examine the facts and tell you whether they think you should pursue a negligent security case. Negligent security cases are complex and require the highest level of skill in the field of trial lawyers.  Make sure the attorneys you hire are experienced and skilled in this specialized field.  There are organizations of lawyers who handle these cases such as the National Crime Victim Bar Association and the American Association for Justice Inadequate Security Litigation Group.

In looking for attorneys, try to determine whether the lawyers have actually tried negligent security cases, whether they are considered preeminent in their field, and whether they are recognized as experts in this highly specialized area of trial law.  Have they taught or published anything about negligent security cases?  Are they board certified in trial law? Does the firm have the necessary financial resources to support the case, as negligent security cases can be very expensive to bring (investigations, depositions, expert witnesses, etc.).  Be wary of a law firm wants you to pay for the costs (expenses), as most firms handling these cases on a contingency fee will advance the costs until the case is settled or tried.

The right legal team will help you win the compensation you deserve. In addition, you’ll hold those responsible accountable, so nothing happens to someone else in the future. 

This is one of the areas of law where this kind of litigation has truly made a difference in everyone’s safety.  From having security guards at supermarkets to creating minimum safety standards at ATMs to requiring key cards and access control at hotels. These are just a few of the ways that inadequate security litigation has made society safer.

At Leighton Law, we specialize in helping victims seek damages after negligent security conditions lead to injury or death. We have a long history of litigating, trying and settling some of the largest negligent security cases in Florida and around the country.  John Leighton has been hired by lawyers around the country to try security cases in Wisconsin, Indiana, Texas and New York, as well as throughout Florida.  He is the author of the leading textbook in the field, Litigating Premises Security Cases, and is the immediate past President of the National Crime Victim Bar Association. Schedule a free consultation with our team to discuss your case’s details and your next steps. 

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