Did you or a loved one become a crime victim because a property owner failed to keep their premises safe and secure? You may be wondering about your legal rights:
Our crime victim lawyers can help you find the accountability and financial support you deserve.
America’s legal system has a long and powerful history of holding property owners partially responsible for crimes committed on their watch. Likewise, negligent security lawsuits provide the victims of crime, who are too often abandoned by the criminal justice system, with a vital source for financial compensation.
Court-ordered restitution and state-operated crime victim compensation funds often fall short, providing victims with compensation only for a fraction of their actual losses. Civil lawsuits, on the other hand, allow victims and their loved ones to pursue a wide range of damages, paving a clearer path toward recovery.
Negligent security lawsuits are largely distinct from criminal proceedings. Whereas the criminal justice system attempts to punish offenders for harming society, civil lawsuits are filed with a very different goal: to hold offenders or negligent third parties accountable for the personal damages that crime has brought upon a victim and their family.
In theory, any sort of crime could give rise to a viable negligent security lawsuit so long as the victim suffered some form of damage due to a property owner’s failure to provide adequate protection. In practice, the vast majority of successful crime lawsuits filed in civil court involve violent crimes, offenses that cause physical injury and emotional trauma or in which physical force is threatened:
Claims over negligent security fall into the larger category of premises liability lawsuits, which seek to hold property owners accountable for injuries sustained on their real estate. Specifically, negligent security lawsuits attempt to uphold the legal and ethical obligations by which all property owners are bound: to offer lawful guests reasonable and adequate security protections against foreseeable crimes committed by third parties. Wrapped up in that short definition are several key concepts critical to any successful negligent security claim that we’ll cover in more detail next.
Most property owners, both residential and commercial, have a minimal duty to provide guests with adequate security:
Establishing that a duty to protect visitors exists is the first step in any negligent security case.
In many lawsuits, this step will be relatively easy. A convenience store owner, for example, has an obvious responsibility to protect customers in some way from being drawn into criminal activity. How much protection must be provided is a different question, but a basic obligation should be clear.
Likewise, students at elementary schools, colleges, and universities should receive an appropriate amount of protection from those who would do them harm. Malls and shopping centers have a duty to employ state-licensed security guards. Parking lot owners often have an obligation to install and maintain adequate lighting, denying to potential criminals the concealment of darkness.
In principle, any commercial or residential property owner (along with security companies hired to enhance a property’s safety) can be held accountable for allowing a criminal offender to harm others. The practice of negligent security law, however, usually revolves around a set of locations where violent crimes tend to occur.
According to recent results from the National Crime Victimization Survey, more than 5.5 million Americans become victims of violent crime every year. Nearly 34% of these crimes took place in or near the victim’s home. A further 18% occurred in the open, on public streets, or in public transportation systems.
Note that these statistics do not include homicides, the quintessential form of “violent crime.” To produce their study, researchers at the Bureau of Justice Statistics focused instead on rape, sexual assault, and robbery, along with aggravated and simple assaults.
In some states, a property owner’s duty will also depend on the legal status of the visitor who was injured.
The majority of states have moved away from this strict delineation between visitors, offering all types of guests, even trespassers, at least limited rights when they are injured on someone else’s property.
After it’s determined that a duty existed between a property owner and visitor, negligent security lawsuits turn to the question of how much security should have been provided. Property owners aren’t required to keep everyone safe at all times; that would be impossible. Nor are high-crime areas considered equivalent to places with lower crime rates.
When property owners are bound to provide “reasonable” protections, what should be considered “reasonable” will change from case to case. In other words, property owners can only be held accountable for allowing foreseeable crimes to occur, ones they knew or should have known were likely to happen.
In determining whether or not a crime was reasonably foreseeable, most states focus on the property’s prior history of similar crimes, a history that most judges expect property owners to know about, either through personal experience or research.
Police reports can be considered, too, which may show that emergency personnel have responded to similar criminal activity at this location in the past. Time is also a factor. A spate of violent crimes forty years ago probably wouldn’t make a violent crime in the present foreseeable.
The specific type of crime is important here. If a history of recent sexual assaults has been reported in a parking lot, it’s likely that the next assault that takes place there would be considered foreseeable. A non-violent crime, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t be considered foreseeable.
No matter the specific circumstances, these considerations of prior criminal history and location will eventually lead to a picture of what sorts of security measures should have been used on the property. Experienced premises liability attorneys often rely on independent security experts to figure out which protocols the property owner could have implemented to reduce the likelihood of the crime.
These experts also become helpful in fulfilling the next task of any negligent security lawsuits, which is to demonstrate that the property owner failed to meet these reasonable expectations.
Examples of negligent security practices are numerous and, as we’ve already mentioned, will ultimately come down to the specifics operative in each case. That being said, here are a few examples of common security breakdowns that can lead to violent crime and severe injuries, as well as viable civil lawsuits:
Your attorney’s work, however, isn’t done after the property owner’s negligence has been demonstrated. Victims of crime also have to prove that the crime occurred, at least in part, because of the property owner’s failure – that adequate security measures would have prevented the crime or reduced its likelihood dramatically.
The final step is to show how the crime affected you or your loved one. How were you injured by the assault, rape, stabbing or robbery? There are numerous possible answers to this question, but the answers that will become relevant in a civil lawsuit usually fall into one of three categories:
How much any single case will be “worth” is highly dependent on the actual financial losses suffered by crime victims and/or their families.
Wrongful death lawsuits, which surviving family members frequently file after a fatal stabbing or shooting, entail a different set of possible damages. Many of these claims demand compensation for funeral and burial expenses, along with medical services that were required before a loved one’s death. They also include losses that are harder to define but no less important. Loss of financial support and household services is just one example.
Pursuing justice doesn’t have to be expensive. CrimeVictim.law is sponsored by a national alliance of attorneys, who have gained substantial experience helping victims of crime secure compensation in court. Our lawyers offer their services on a contingency-fee-basis, meaning you pay us nothing until we recover damages in your claim.
Learning more about your legal options comes at no charge. Just contact our attorneys today to receive a free consultation.