Negligent security is a body of law rooted in tort principals. Based on the idea that a property owner has a duty to take reasonable precautions to prevent crimes against people on their property, negligent security has been at the forefront of what some scholars frame as an ongoing effort to shape public policy. Whatever the philosophical underpinnings, negligent security law provides an important avenue of recovery for victims of a property owners inadequate security efforts.
Distinct from dangerous property law, negligent security cases focus on foreseeable and potentially preventable criminal acts of third parties, that is, persons other than the land owner and the victim. Generally speaking, an individual has no legal responsibility for the acts of a third-party. However, where that individual owns property open to members of the public, a relationship is created which implies a duty of care towards the public. This duty includes the responsibility to take reasonable precautions to prevent injury to guests from third-party criminal acts. In practice, this duty translates into the responsibility to mitigate the possibility and severity of harm by, for example:
Installing and maintaining appropriate lighting
Properly maintaining doors, locks, gates and other barriers
Screening and supervising employees
Utilizing a working security camera and/or alarm system
This list is far from complete, and not every precaution will be required in every situation. The more foreseeable the harm and the less the precaution will cost in relation to the potential harm the greater the requirement to take precautionary measures.
The duty to provide reasonably secure properties extends to many different types of land and business operations including apartment complexes, offices, malls, parking garages, convenience stores, gas stations, amusement parks, and just about any other location where non-owner guests make use of a piece of property. In fact, government subsidized housing is increasingly becoming the subject of negligent security lawsuits. Residents and guests of properties situated in high-crime areas, where property owners and managers may be working on limited budgets and may choose to ignore or reduce security precautions such as security patrols or property maintenance are particularly vulnerable to harm.
A critical consideration in negligent security cases is the defendant property owners capacity to appreciate or predict a particular crime. To win these cases, plaintiffs must prove that a property owner was either actually or constructively aware of the risk of the type of crime that affected the plaintiffs. To prove this element, plaintiffs can present evidence that similar crimes have recently taken place in the same area or the same business. However, courts have drawn a distinction between violent crimes and property crimes and have been hesitant to cross over between the two. Thus, the fact that a bank down the street was broken into twice during the last year might not be sufficient proof that a hotel owner knew, or should have known, that his tenants were at risk of rape.
Conversely, a property owners clear lack of concern about such possibilities might help a plaintiff. For example, if the same hotel owner ignored evidence that the locks on many of his rooms were broken and that anyone could walk right into these rooms, a rape occurring in one of the affected rooms would likely be foreseeable. However, courts have been hesitant to define any certain set of places or actions as inherently dangerous.
A corollary to foreseeability is the issue of causation. Even where a property owner knew of a particular threat, the plaintiff must show that some additional security measure would likely have prevented the harm; in other words, that the harm resulted from the lax security. This is particularly applicable to arguments that additional security guards were warranted. In such cases, courts have questioned whether any reasonable number of security guards could have prevented a crime; positing that unless security was posted on every part of a property at every moment, there could be no certainty that any number of additional guards would have been more likely to observe, and thus prevent, a crime in progress.
Similarly, claims that a broken security gate allowed an attacker to enter a parking garage undetected were dismissed because the court felt that there was no certain way to determine how the unknown attacker actually entered the building. Issues of causation have been in flux over the years and these cases require the skill of an experienced attorney to prevail.
As with many torts in California, the law allows a victim to collect only that portion of their damages for which they were not themselves responsible. This means that property guests share some of the responsibility for their own safety. In cases where a visitor was more aware of the local crime statistics than was the property owner, courts have shown a willingness to assign some share of responsibility to the victim. This is not at all to suggest that victims were responsible for their attacks, but rather that when forced to choose between a visitor and property owner who are equally capable of mitigating the possibility of attack, courts are hesitant to place all of the blame on the property owner for damages resulting from the criminal acts of a third party.
Crimes by employees
Generally, employers are not legally responsible for the acts of an employee unless that employee was acting in the course and scope of their job. Criminal acts are not expected of a hotel manager, gas station attendant, or janitor. However, where the employer knows of a particularly questionable background, such as an employees record of prior violent assault, or where an employer make no effort to ascertain an individuals fitness for the job, negligent hiring can come into play. In these cases the property owner has a duty to guests to use reasonable efforts to employ persons who will not be a source of criminal activity.
Negligent security cases are very fact specific and complex. If you have been the victim of a crime at an apartment complex, office, mall, parking garage, convenience store, gas station, amusement park, or in any other public setting, you may be entitled to compensation for your physical and emotional injuries. There is no substitute for specialized legal advice tailored to your particular situation. Contact California negligent security attorney Don Sjaarda at (714) 963-8216 today.
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