Were you or a loved one harmed in a shooting? Some victims and families may be eligible to pursue a civil lawsuit for financial compensation.
- Shooting survivor lawsuits
- Third-party negligent security cases
- Wrongful death claims
Our experienced attorneys are here to help. To learn more about filing a shooting or wrongful death claim, call us today for a free consultation.
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It goes without saying that every shooting, whether fatal or non-fatal, changes lives in an instant. When they aren't killed, victims can suffer horrific personal injuries and emotional trauma that requires years of counseling. Families are often burdened by medical expenses and significant psychological challenges of their own. But long-term support can be hard to find.
While we encourage every crime victim to participate fully with the police and criminal prosecutors, the criminal justice system isn't designed to help survivors recover from their injuries and trauma. That's especially true where financial compensation is concerned. Within the criminal justice system, victims and their families have two options to secure compensation.
Restitution & Compensation Funds
The first is called "restitution," in which a convicted offender is ordered to pay compensation as part of their sentence. Obviously, securing court-ordered restitution requires a conviction.
Beyond restitution, every state operates a crime victims' compensation fund, using monetary fines and penalties levied against convicted criminal offenders. These funds offer emergency financing for crime-related expenses to thousands of families every year, but also come with strict reporting requirements and compensation limits attached.
Many survivors of crime, however, have another option: pursuing financial damages through the civil justice system.
Filing A Civil Crime Lawsuit After A Shooting
If you or a loved one were injured in shooting, you may be able to file a private lawsuit for compensation. And your case need not be limited to the shooter or shooters who actually committed the crime. In fact, a robust body of state law allows survivors and their families to pursue compensation from negligent third-party defendants.
Third-Party Liability For Crime
Where did the shooting take place? In a convenience store, a parking lot, apartment complex, a gas station or at a school? All of these property owners have a legal duty to provide their guests, visitors and residents with a reasonable level of security.
The point of this responsibility is to reduce the likelihood of criminal activity. And when a property owner fails to provide adequate security, and someone else is injured as a direct result of that failure, the business can be opened up to legal liability.
In short, negligent property owners can be held accountable for allowing violent crime to occur on their premises. So when a shooting occurs, some victims may be eligible to file a civil lawsuit against the owner of the property where the shooting happened. In the case of a murder, surviving family members could be entitled to pursue a wrongful death claim against the property owner.
Property Owners Can Be Held Accountable For Foreseeable Crimes
How common were similar shootings at the same location? That could well prove an important question if you plan to file a civil lawsuit against a property owner. While state laws vary, most jurisdictions say that property owners can only be held liable for failing to prevent "foreseeable" criminal activity.
In high-crime neighborhoods, a reasonable person could predict that further criminal activity would be likely to occur in the future. If, for example, three shootings had occurred at a convenience store within the last year, a subsequent fourth shooting would probably be deemed "foreseeable."
Due to its prior history of crime, the convenience store had been put "on notice" that shootings were likely to occur there. The same logic would apply to an apartment complex with a history of brutal assaults - assaults in the future would likely be considered "foreseeable."
The Question Of Reasonable Security
What, then, can a property owner do to prevent crime? There's no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. Every property's security needs will vary, depending on the business' location, history of crime and layout.
Convenience stores should be designed so the cashier can see through all of the aisles from the register. Parking lots should have bright overhead lighting. High-traffic bars should consider hiring a security guard or off-duty police officer to watch the door.
And, for almost any business, visible security cameras can be an excellent way to monitor criminal activity and, in some cases, deter potential offenders from committing violent acts.
Failures In Security Lead To Liability
A negligent security lawsuit, though, will focus on the absence or failure of a security measure. We've seen dozens of cases in which an apartment building owner failed to fix broken door locks, allowing violent criminal offenders to gain easy access to victims.
In other claims, we've helped clients who were assaulted in parking garages where a burned-out fluorescent light was never replaced, leaving thick shadows for an offender to hide in.
In almost all of these cases, however, there has to be a direct connection between the property's security problem and the crime. The broken lock allowed the offender to enter the victim's residence. If the lock had been working, the offender wouldn't have been able to get inside. The burned-out light allowed the offender to hide from the parking garage's security guard. With a working light, the offender could have been spotted.
Liability For Mass Shootings
After the horrific shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, in which a man stationed on the 32nd-floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel murdered 58 people and injured over 515 others, most legal experts believed that the hotel itself would escape legal liability.
At the time, pundits came out to defend Mandalay Bay, saying the company had taken appropriate measures to protect public safety, including the reasonable precaution of screening guests and hiring security guards. And further, the chorus opined, the shooter's actions were so out-of-the-ordinary that no hotel could adequately guard against them.
Is Mandalay Bay Liable For Las Vegas Massacre?
As we've seen, property owners owe their guests and visitors a reasonable standard of care. That duty often breaks down under extraordinary circumstances and the shooting at Mandalay Bay, experts said, was beyond the bounds of reason. Newer revelations, though, have called the expert opinions into question, Forbes reports.
Apparently, the shooter's hotel room went uninspected for 3 days prior to the massacre, because he put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door. A number of victims and families have already sued the hotel's ownership, MGM Resorts. "Typically in the law," says attorney and academic Stephen Barth, "massacres like this are not foreseeable."
Most courts consider the foreseeability of a criminal act as the key component in a negligent security lawsuit. It bears repeating: property owners usually can't be held liable for failing to prevent criminal activity when they had no reasonable way to predict that such activity could occur.
Even so, legal pressure could change that equation. If hundreds of families file mass shooting lawsuits against MGM, the company's long-term financial calculus will certainly be impacted. Offering settlements to quash the litigation may be the best option, at least in the company's own financial terms. Defending against hundreds of lawsuits is costly, even for major corporations.
Air Force Fields Criticism After Texas Church Shooting
Another recent case has brought up similar questions of liability. In November 2017, a disgraced Air Force service member walked into a Texas Baptist Church, clad in tactical gear and armed with an assault rifle, and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 12 children.
And while no one would suggest that the shooter's actions were "foreseeable" to the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, legal experts believe that liability for the massacre could fall on the Air Force.
Did Air Force Fail To Prevent Massacre?
In 2012, the man had been court-martialed on charges of assault and convicted for breaking his own stepson's skull. After being sentenced to spend time in a mental hospital, he escaped. And Air Force officials knew that he had been sneaking firearms illegally onto an military base, apparently in preparation to carry out death threats against his supervisors.
A sick, disturbed man capable of horrifying acts of violence. Yet the Air Force, by its own admission, failed to enter the shooter's conviction into the National Criminal Information Center, which it was legally obligated to do.
That would have prevented the man from purchasing firearms, in line with a 1996 law, the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, which hopes to prevent anyone who is convicted of domestic violence (either felony or misdemeanor) from getting a gun.
So the question becomes inevitable. Was the Air Force negligent in its duty to prevent service members from threatening the lives of American citizens?
Liability For Unlawful Gun Sales
Another potential defendant is the shop that sold guns to the man. As CBS DFW reports, 3 families have already filed suit against Academy Sports & Outdoors, a business in Katy, Texas, that sold the shooter the AR-556 rifle he used to murder their loved ones.
Know Your Statute Of Limitations
Before moving forward, there's an important set of laws that you should be aware of. These laws are called statutes of limitation. Every state has one and it limits the amount of time plaintiffs have to file private lawsuits. Miss the deadline and your case, no matter the merits, will almost certainly be thrown out of court.