Typically, when criminal activity causes death or serious bodily injury, the only people who are liable are those that commit the crime. However, when you trust someone to have proper security measures in place and they fail to do so, they may be liable. For example, if a criminal assault or theft occurs due to insufficient or non-existent security, a person or business may be liable for your injuries. Generally, owners of commercial and residential buildings have a duty to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition for invitees and guests. This means owners of such buildings must create a safe environment for their visitors. If a visitor suffers at the hands of criminals, they may be entitled to compensation.
The above scenario falls under the legal umbrella of negligence. Generally, this is a term that refers to any careless or reckless activity that contributes to or allows an accident to occur. In these cases, a person or organization that had a duty to perform a task correctly failed to do so in a way that causes injuries, loss of life or loss of property. If you can prove that a duty was not fulfilled and resulted in damages, you may receive compensation.
What is Negligent Security?
In cases of negligent security, typically a property owner has failed to provide adequate (or any) security, leaving a person or place vulnerable to crime. As a result, a negligent security attorney must approach these types of cases differently than direct negligence cases, because you are seeking damages due to a crime committed by a third party. A negligent security attorney would examine the location that the crime took place and look at the security in place and determine if it was adequate and complied with laws and standards in the area where the crime occurred. Also, your negligent security lawyer can make a public records request for a “grid report” to the local law enforcement agency, which will show any and all crimes that have been committed in a particular location during a period of time. In order to prove that a company or individual is liable for a crime committed by a third party, one must establish that they had a duty to provide security and that the crime was, in some way, foreseeable.
Third Party Crimes
When a crime is committed by a third-party and the victim is seeking compensation from a property owner, one of three things must be true:
- The property owner had control over the weapon or instrument used to commit a crime. For instance, if a weapon or tool that should be locked in a safe is used to injure or kill someone, the owner of the instrument may be liable.
- A crime or accident occurs on the premises of an owner who should have had more security measures in place.
- The defendant is in control of the person who is directly responsible.
Negligent security claims involve the second of the above criteria and require a crime victim to prove that the owner of the property where the incident occurred is liable. However, to do this they need to be able to prove that the crime was foreseeable.
What is Foreseeability?
Foreseeability is a legal term that comes into play in all personal injury cases. A foreseeability test is used to demonstrate that a person who caused or failed to prevent an accident could have foreseen the potential or likely consequences of their actions or failure to act. Foreseeability is comprised of two separate terms: duty and proximate cause.
Establishing Duty and Proximate Cause
Duty is a legal obligation to uphold a standard of care while performing any act that could potentially harm someone else. If you are trying to build a negligence case, this is the first thing that you must establish. The question you need to answer when determining duty is, did the defendant’s actions create risk for others. Without this, a case cannot be successfully pursued. However, to win such a case, you also have to prove proximate cause. This means that the defendant’s actions contributed to the specific injury in question. More than creating a general risk, proximate cause means that the defendant’s action or inaction caused someone harm.
Foreseeable Versus Unforeseeable
To prove duty and proximate cause, you must prove that the crime or event was foreseeable. This means that you need to show that the defendant’s actions or inaction contributed to harm someone in a way that reasonably could have been recognized and avoided. Foreseeability is often determined by examing similar crimes in the area. For instance, if a parking lot outside of a department store has had several muggings over the past few months and, as a result, the store installs security lights and hires a security guard who then forgets to turn on the lights and falls asleep while a mugging occurs, that can be considered foreseeable.
However, there are several types of unforeseeable harm. Here are a few examples:
- Unforeseeable type of harm. This is harm that occurs as a result of some freak accident, strange occurrence, or otherwise unpredictable event. For instance, if a door is left unlocked and a burglar enters, that is considered foreseeable. If, however, a clever cat opens a door and knocks over a candle that causes a fire, that may be considered an unforeseeable type of harm.
- Unforeseeable manner of harm. This is when the circumstances leading up to an event were unforeseeable. As an example, if an earthquake breaks down a door allowing looters to get in, that may be an unforeseeable manner of harm.
In negligent security cases, there are two ways you can use foreseeability to prove that there was a duty. First, you can show that a third party that committed a crime had an inclination toward committing that crime. If a parking lot sees a string of smash and grab burglaries, you could point to previous crimes in the lot to show that the last one was foreseeable and the owner of the lot had a duty to bolster security.
Second, you can show that the owner of the premises had knowledge of a condition that contributed to injury or harm. For instance, if a landowner knew that a staircase had a broken step and someone falls through the step, you could prove that he had a duty to make repairs.
If you are injured as a result of negligent security, it is important to seek assistance from a negligent security lawyer who is knowledgeable about how to investigate and prove a negligent security case so you are fairly and adequately compensated.