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Can You Be Liable for Crimes Committed by Third Persons? The Basics of Negligent Security

September 08 2020 | Blog
  • If you are the victim of a crime that occurred on a residential or commercial property but the criminal has never been captured, can you try to obtain compensation for your injuries from other parties? Read our blog to find out.

    Unsuspecting of the fact that he’s being watched, a customer is packing his shopping bags into his car after just having made several expensive purchases. Because most of the spots in the shopping mall’s parking lot were occupied earlier that day, he was forced to park his car in an unilluminated area unmonitored by either security staff or cameras. He has heard rumors of people being mugged in this parking lot before, so he tries to pack up and leave as soon as possible. 

    He doesn’t hear the footsteps behind him. A sharp blow to the head, followed by brief but excruciating pain, is the last of what he remembers before waking up in the hospital. He’s diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury and has also suffered the loss of his car, his wallet, and his expensive purchases as a result of this foreseeable assault. 

    If you have suffered injuries and financial losses under similar circumstances, can a business be held responsible for the crime that happened on its premises? In many cases, the answer to this question will be affirmative. The result of your claim, however, will depend on whether you and your lawyer can prove that the property owner was guilty of inadequate or negligent security. In this article, we explore what “negligent security” entails and why it can be a basis for compensation claims arising from injuries and losses that occurred as a result of a crime.

    What is Negligent Security?

    Negligent security operates on the same basic principle that guides other premises liability factors. Premises liability means that the owner of a property may be liable for an accident that occurred on the property and the resulting injuries if the mishap happened as a result of the owner’s negligence. 

    Negligence may include different situations ranging from simple maintenance issues–a slippery floor or an uneven sidewalk–to serious offenses like fire safety and building code violations. Still, the common elements of all premises liability cases are (a) the duty of care that the property owner owes to the property users, (b) negligent actions of the owner that constitute a breach of this duty, and (c) injuries that have occurred as a result of such negligence.

    Claims arising from negligent security must always meet the three criteria described above. However, certain cases can also be seen as special instances of premises liability. When an accident happens because of negligent security, it means that the victim suffered an injury as a result of a crime rather than a random mishap. Therefore, at first glance, it may seem counterintuitive that the owner of the property where the crime happened should be held liable for the injuries. After all, it is the criminal who inflicted the injury rather than the owner. 

    To better understand why a crime victim may file a compensation claim against a property owner, it is important to recognize the difference between criminal and civil liability. The criminal, if caught, may be charged in criminal court for criminal actions; the property owner, of course, can’t be sued for a crime he or she didn’t commit. Still, just as property owners have a duty to ensure that their buildings have no dangerous defects or maintenance issues that may lead to accidents, so too they are obliged to take steps protecting the users of the premises from crime risk. If a crime does happen, they may be sued civilly for resulting injuries and losses.

    Examples of Negligent or Inadequate Security

    Almost all commercial and residential property owners put some measures in place to prevent crime. Therefore, what exactly constitutes negligent security will vary from case to case. Still, some examples of negligent or inadequate security may include:

    • Lack of security cameras
    • Failure to install and properly maintain alarms
    • Faulty or lacking locks on hotel or apartment doors
    • Failure to establish security procedures or failure to enforce them
    • Lack of security personnel or an insufficient number of security people
    • Insufficient lighting in areas that experience a heightened risk of crimes such as parking lots, parking garages, or similar

    Negligent security claims may arise following a crime that happened in a variety of settings and circumstances. Tenants may file a claim against their landlords; customers may seek redress from a property owner or manager following a crime that happened in a mall; concert-goers may try to sue the organizer of a musical event at which they suffered assault, and so on.

    How to Prove Negligent Security

    All negligent security claims are based on two important concepts. The first is the breach of the property owner’s duty of care to provide adequate security measures to protect property users from crimes. The second crucial concept refers to the foreseeability of the crime which caused the injuries or other losses. For your negligent security claim to prevail, you must prove that the crime in question was foreseeable. This means that similar prior criminal activity has been discovered–or should reasonably have been discovered–by the property owner in the same area or on the same property. 

    For example, if some people have been mugged in the parking lot of the property before, the crime may be considered to have been foreseeable. If the owner or manager fails to step up security on the premises, the victim of yet another mugging may file a negligent security claim. On the other hand, the victim of a different sort of crime that has never been reported on the same premises before–for example, battery, assault, or rape–may find it more challenging to prove that the crime was, in fact, foreseeable.

    Of course, the theoretical scenarios illustrated in this article are just a few examples of negligent security that may give rise to premises liability claims. A victim of a crime that happened on a residential or commercial property would always do well to consult a personal injury attorney experienced in handling negligent security cases. The attorney may use knowledge of previous cases to help you obtain compensation even if you are unaware of any obvious instances of negligence on the part of the property owner.

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