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:
- Can property owners be held liable for inadequate security?
- Does my state have a crime victim restitution system?
- What types of property owners can be held liable?
- What damages could I recover in a negligent security lawsuit?
- Do I need a lawyer to help me file a lawsuit?
Our crime victim lawyers can help you find the accountability and financial support you deserve.
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Nearly every property owner has a basic legal duty to provide guests and residents with a reasonable measure of safety. Tragically, many business owners, along with apartment and office owners, focus their efforts on increasing profits rather than keeping their visitors safe.
Civil Lawsuits Help Victims Of Crime Find Compensation
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.
Violent Crime & Civil Litigation
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:
- Wrongful death (homicide or manslaughter)
- Sexual assault
- Assault and battery
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.
A Property Owner’s Duty To Protect Guests
Most property owners, both residential and commercial, have a minimal duty to provide guests with adequate security:
- Apartment complexes
- Office buildings
- Parking lots and garages
- Nursing homes
- Places of worship
- Stadiums and sporting arenas
- Shopping malls
- Department stores
- Convenience stores
Establishing that a duty to protect visitors existed is the first step in any negligent security case.
Examples Of Security Obligations
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.
Where Does Violent Crime Happen?
In principle, any commercial or residential property owner (along with security companies hired to enhance a property’s safety) can be held accountable forallowing 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 the 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.
- Parking Lots – over 7% of violent crimes, and more than 11% of property crimes, take place in parking lots or garages
- Schools (public and private) – an estimated 13% of violent crimes take place inside schools or on school property
- Privately-Owned Businesses – more than 12% of violent crimes occur in commercial locations, with restaurants, bars and nightclubs being especially common sites for crime
- Acquaintance’s Home – over 9% of violent crimes happen in the home of one of the victim’s friends, neighbors or relatives
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.
Types Of Visitors
In some states, a property owner’s duty will also depend on the legal status of the visitor who was injured.
- Invitee – Someone who is invited onto a property, either explicitly or implicitly, for a lawful purpose is almost always entitled to reasonable safety protections. Customers who visit stores to purchase goods or services are usually considered invitees, as are workers at an office. Some states believe that the notion of an invitee implies some sort of financial relationship, as when a customer visits a business to purchase something. You go to a store to improve the owner’s business and are thus entitled to be kept reasonably safe. The majority of plaintiffs in negligent security cases fall into this category, which can also include people who were injured on public property.
- Licensee – Unlike invitees, licensees enter a property for their own purposes, but do so with the owner’s consent. Social guests and traveling salespeople are normally considered licensees, who are entitled to a reasonable degree of safety measures, but a less stringent duty than the one afforded to invitees.
- Trespasser – Trespassers have no right to be on someone else’s property. They haven’t been given permission to enter, or received an invitation of the sort that business owners extend to paying customers. Moreover, trespassers step onto the premises for their own pleasure, to serve their own purposes, rather than those of the premises owner. Surprisingly, most states actually offer trespassers a degree of legal protection in the event of injury.
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.
How Much Security Is Enough?
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.
History Of Prior Crimes
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 have 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.
What Negligent Security Looks Like
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 Inadequate Security
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:
- Failing to fix broken locks
- Failing to repair fencing
- Failing to hire enough (or any) security guards
- Failing to install security cameras
- Failing to provide adequate lighting
- Negligently issuing multiple keys to a shared space
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.
Damages & Compensation
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:
- Economic damages hope to compensate victims and their families for objective, quantifiable losses, including medical expenses (past and future), wages lost due to personal injury and / or emotional trauma, loss of future earnings potential and loss or damage to property
- Non-economic damages attempt to compensate victims for more subjective forms of harm, like the experience of physical pain and psychological suffering, along with on-going emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life
- Punitive damages are not designed to compensate victims or their families, but to act as an additional punishment for defendants who are deemed to have acted in particularly egregious ways
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 are frequently filed by surviving family members 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.
Hiring A Crime Victim’s Attorney
Pursuing justice doesn’t have to be expensive. CrimeVictim.law is sponsored by a national alliance of attorneys, all of whom have gained substantial experience helping victims of crime secure compensation in court. Our lawyers offer their services on a contingency-fee basis, which means that 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.