Every office building in the country has a basic obligation to protect workers, employees and other visitors from the risk of violent crime. Some victims may have a claim for negligent security against the building's owner.

  • Crime-related physical injuries
  • Emotional trauma
  • Wrongful death damages

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Most survivors of crime believe that, once the crime has been reported and charges have been pressed, their legal journey is over. That's not necessarily true. Crime victims also have civil rights, including a right to pursue financial compensation by filing a private lawsuit.

And what's more, some victims may even have a claim for compensation against owners of the property on which they were hurt. Property owners, including office building owners, who fail to provide adequate protection against criminal offenders can be held accountable in court through a negligent security claim.

Why File A Lawsuit Against The Office Building?

At first, there's something counter-intuitive about premises liability law, especially when it concerns claims of negligent security. A victim is injured, or killed, by a criminal offender, but the plaintiff chooses to file suit against the gas station, convenience store, apartment building or office where the crime took place. Why would these third-party property owners have any responsibility for the actions of a criminal?

Office Building Lobby

This question is borne of a misunderstanding. Negligent security laws don't seek to hold property owners accountable for crime, but for failing to prevent crime or, more accurately, failing to attempt to prevent crime.

There's a basic assumption in American civil law that customers who patronize a business should be able to do so with a reasonable assumption of safety. That's just good for business. No one would enter a store if they knew the business' owner had left them vulnerable to the whims of a potential criminal.

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Security Obligations For Commercial Property Owners

The same is true for apartment buildings, parking lots, bars and restaurants. In fact, every property, either residential or commercial, in the United States is covered by this basic obligation, to provide lawful guests, residents and visitors with a reasonable degree of security. And in office buildings, where people go to work, they should be able to assume an appropriate level of security as they do so.

In the end, there's nothing particularly counter-intuitive about this concept. Office workers usually don't have any control over the buildings in which they work. You can't update the security camera system yourself, or choose how many security guards are posted at the entrance, or devise a better way to train those guards.

Instead, you have to rely on the decisions made by the property's owner. And that's why the property's owner can be held accountable for making the wrong decision, or failing to make any decision at all, when crime does occur.

Criminal History & The "Foreseeability" Requirement

No two properties will have an identical security obligation. Office buildings located in high-crime neighborhoods, for example, will usually be held to a higher standard than offices on the side of an interstate highway. Courts also take a property's specific history of crime into account.

Many negligent security cases come down to a determination of "foreseeability." The thinking, in brief, is that property owners can't be held accountable for allowing crimes to occur, if they had no good reason to think the crime could occur. The crime, in short, must be foreseeable.

Improving Security In Office Buildings

So if an office building experienced three sexual assaults in the span of months, a fourth sexual assault would almost certainly be considered foreseeable. The property's owner had been put "on notice" to the danger and, given the history of crime, some improvement in security would likely become necessary.

An office building's lobby is the first line of defense against violent intruders. Perhaps clerks require additional training, or the security camera system needs updating. A sexual assault at a building with no prior history of assault, on the other hand, probably wouldn't be foreseeable, and holding the owner liable would become much harder.

How Civil Lawsuits Help Survivors & Families Recover

In the wake of a violent crime, where do victims turn for justice? It's not an earth-shattering proposition to suggest that most crime victims, in thinking about their next steps, turn to the police.

That's a good thing. We believe that every violent crime should be reported to law enforcement and thoroughly investigated. But it's also true, as so many survivors of crime have learned, that the criminal justice system was not designed to support victims. It was designed to punish criminals.

And while recent decades have seen a number of legislative efforts empower victims to participate in the criminal justice system, it's still far from perfect. We still hear from crime survivors who felt mistreated and, in some cases, re-traumatized by the justice system.

The Financial Implications Of Violent Crime

Most of our clients also face significant financial struggles. Victims of assault and rape often require costly medical treatments. Survivors of an armed robbery work to overcome the trauma of a violent intrusion in years of counseling. And the families who have lost a loved one to murder are working to cover funeral and burial expenses, even as they require care and support for themselves. Where can victims and families turn for financial support?

State Victims Compensation Funds

Today, every state operates a crime victims' compensation program. Funded by fines and fees levied against convicted criminal offenders, these trust funds provide necessary financial compensation to people affected by crime, but they fall far short of offering full compensation.

Most state funds set strict compensation limits, and only cover a limited set of damage types. And all state compensation funds obligate victims to meet reporting deadlines.

Pursuing Justice Through Private Action

The civil justice system provides another option. Victims of crime are empowered by state law to file civil lawsuits against criminal offenders and third-party property owners. As we've seen, office building owners have a basic obligation to provide workers and visitors with a reasonable measure of security against crime. Property owners who fail to do so, allowing violent criminals to inflict severe injuries, can be held accountable for their negligence.

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