Major retailers, from Macy's to Sam's Club, have a duty to offer customers and employees an acceptable amount of security from crime. Department stores and other big businesses can be held liable for failing to provide adequate protection.
Were you or a loved one injured due to crime at a department store or other business? The experienced attorneys at Crime Victim Advocates want to help.
Wal-Mart. Target. JCPenney. Macy's. Nordstrom. Beyond their obvious similarities, every department store and big-box retailer in the United States also shares a legal obligation to provide paying customers and lawful visitors a reasonable measure of security against violent crime.
If there is a crime issue at the department store, and the property owner is aware that the establishment is prone to criminal activity and fails to provide adequate security for its customers and individuals with a legitimate reason to be on the premises, then the department store could be held responsible for any incidents involving shootings, mass shootings, or stabbings that occur within or on its property.
Even so, numerous department store shoppers have suffered severe injuries when a criminal offender was able to circumvent a business' existing safety precautions to commit illegal and, in some cases, monstrous acts of violence.
The vast majority of these crimes take place in the parking lot, but a business' legal duty to customer, visitor, and employee safety usually extends outside the store itself. Both outside in the parking lot and at the cashier's checkout counter, store shoppers are protected by a strong body of civil law that says negligent business owners can be held accountable for allowing violent crimes to occur.
It might seem implausible at first. Most crime victims understand that they have certain rights inside the criminal justice system. Some survivors of crime, including families who have lost a loved one to murder, know that it's possible, however difficult, to file a civil lawsuit against a criminal offender and demand financial compensation.
But suing the store, large or small, where the crime was committed? For some reason, that's counter-intuitive. It also happens to be possible in many cases.
Thousands of crime victims and families have secured financial compensation in the past by suing a department store that failed to provide them with adequate security.
Like the big-box retailers, from Wal-Mart and Sam's Club to IKEA, department stores have a legal obligation under state law to secure their properties against violent criminals. Most of these companies own the parking lots located adjacent to their warehouses, which means that their legal responsibilities are carried out into the aisles of parked cars.
That's a very good thing for customers, who are often left most vulnerable when they're preoccupied with unloading or loading their vehicles. Carjackings, assault and battery, sexual attacks, even kidnapping, and murder - every form of heinous crime imaginable has occurred at some point in a business' parking lot. It's particularly true in high-crime neighborhoods, a fact that the vast majority of courts will take into account in considering a negligent security lawsuit.
In most cases, property owners can only be held accountable for allowing "foreseeable" crimes to occur. Department stores can't be found liable for third-party crimes that they had no way to see coming. Nor could they adequately protect customers against a type of crime that no reasonable person would expect to occur on their property.
To determine whether or not a violent crime should be considered "foreseeable," the court will review the property's prior history of crime, along with the history of crime in the wider neighborhood.
Businesses in high-crime areas usually have a higher duty to protect than stores in low-crime neighborhoods. Special safety requirements may hold at particular times of the day. When the sun sets, for example, the security needs for a parking lot change. Bright lights become a necessity, both to eliminate the shadows in which potential offenders can hide and to deter criminals from committing violent acts. But no one would argue that, during the day, a properly maintained lamp post would be able to prevent a violent crime.
In high-traffic areas, a team of trained security guards may be warranted, both to watch for potential crimes inside the store and to circle the parking lot. Outside of urban areas, on the other hand, security guards may not be necessary.
Parking lot and department store design is another important consideration. Both areas should be laid out in such a way that customers and employees have clear, unobstructed lines of sight. It probably goes without saying that a working and up-to-date security camera system is a must, especially at larger department stores that may be too big for any one employee to surveil adequately.
It's likely that the judge in a negligent security case will take all of these factors into consideration, hoping to understand the totality of circumstances that surrounded the crime before deciding whether or not the store should be found liable for financial damages.
Judges also tend to get pretty specific. So when we talk about a "history of crime," we're really talking about a history of specific crimes. If three sexual assaults occur in the same parking lot, it seems reasonable that the lot's owner should ramp up the security to prevent further assaults. They might not have the same level of duty where kidnapping, murder or other crimes are concerned.
In the end, crime victims and families will have to prove that the department store's owner had a duty to maintain reasonable security precautions but failed to meet that duty. Then, the store's failure will have to be tied to the particular crime at issue.
Survivors often face significant struggles in the wake of suffering a violent crime. Many will be forced to overcome physical injuries, requiring days or weeks in the hospital and incurring large medical bills. The vast majority will also be affected by emotional trauma. And few will be able to return to work immediately, thus having to accept a loss in wages just when they need the money to cover their necessary treatments.
Unfortunately, the criminal justice system has never been particularly good at supporting victims and their families. In fact, before the last few decades, survivors of crime were usually treated as little more than human pieces of evidence. Today, the situation is better, but it's far from perfect. While state compensation funds offer necessary financing to hundreds of crime victims every year, these programs come with strict compensation limits and often impose onerous deadlines.
The civil justice system provides survivors and their loved ones with a second avenue for legal recourse. By filing a negligent security lawsuit, you and your family can pursue valuable financial compensation and begin on the long road to recovery with confidence. Our experienced victims' advocates can help. To learn more about your rights and options, contact our lawyers today for a free consultation.