Overview of Security Negligence
First, what is negligence? Negligence is an area of tort law that creates liability for people that fail to take reasonable care in avoiding injury or loss to another person. Generally, ordinary negligence occurs when someone does not act as a reasonable person would in certain circumstances.
Next, what is security negligence? Security negligence comes from an area of law called premises liability. It deals with a property owner’s failure to provide adequate security on their premises. The harm that occurs usually comes from a third-party that commits a crime on the property (robbery, larceny, etc.). Examples of places where security negligence occurs are malls, shopping centers, hotels, motels, office buildings, schools, and parking garages, among others.
To prove security negligence, you must prove the elements of ordinary negligence (duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages). The plaintiff (the injured person) must show that the defendant (the owner of the premises) failed to take reasonable care in securing the property, and thereby caused harm to the plaintiff. The harm occurs from a third-party criminal against the plaintiff on the defendant’s property.
However, beware that the duty that property owners owe to you will vary. Duty is an essential element of all negligence claims and if you cannot show duty, then you do not have a claim for negligence. For example, colleges may have a duty to provide adequate security measures at the dormitories, so if the student is robbed or injured on the premises, the college may be liable. On the other hand, a residential tenant may not have a duty to take security measures to protect guests from harm in the residential parking lot.
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FAQ about Security Negligence
What is security negligence?
Security negligence is just ordinary negligence in the context of premises liability. In other words, when someone is injured on another’s property by a third-party criminal, the owner of such property may be liable. For example, let’s say a woman is robbed at a mall and the mall was required to provide adequate security, but failed to do so. The owner of the mall may be liable under a cause of action for security negligence.
How do you prove security negligence?
Like any basic negligence claim, you must prove the four elements of negligence: duty, breach, causation, and damages. For security negligence, the two most important and difficult parts of proving a claim are duty and causation. The property owner (i.e. the defendant) must have had a duty to protect you. Sometimes property owners will not owe a duty to provide security services. If there is no duty to protect, there is no negligence claim.
Additionally, there must be causation. Part of proving causation includes showing foreseeability of the crime on the premises. That is, was the harm that occurred on the property foreseeable, or was it a random incidence that could not have been foreseen by the property owner. Typically, robberies and criminal activity will be considered foreseeable, especially in places like parking garages or malls. On the other hand, sometimes it may not be as easy to prove the foreseeability of crimes on certain properties/locations.
What are some examples of security negligence cases?
In 2012, a Florida pharmacist was shot and killed by a drug abuser at a Jacksonville Medical Center where Wackenhut Corporation (defendant) provided security and protective services for the Medical Center. The estate of the Florida pharmacist that was shot and killed sued Wackenhut (defendant) claiming that they knew of prior incidents and should have taken measures to prevent the fatal attack. The defendant was found 25% negligent and the medical center was found 75% negligent.
In 2011, a business invitee at a children’s entertainment and fun park in Dania Beach, FL was shot as he was trying to leave an argument between teenagers. Plaintiff (the injured man) claimed that the defendant should have provided better security as it knew or should have known that its park and parking lot were in a high crime area and that many attacks had taken place. The jury found the defendant 90% negligent.
Another case arose when a bar patron was shot outside a bar after the shooter was ejected from the bar. The bar patron was awarded $2,000,000 settlement from a shopping center and nightclub.
Who is at risk for security negligence liability?
Security providers/protective service providers, commercial business owners, property managers, landlords, security personnel, homeowners, and more.
How much can you sue for security negligence?
This depends on the specifics of your case. In a claim for ordinary negligence, a plaintiff may be awarded compensatory damages. Compensatory damages compensate you for your losses, so the amount of money you get should compensate you for any injuries or harm suffered. This can include any past, present and future expenses incurred, including medical care, lost earnings, and loss of future earnings.
If the claim arises to gross negligence, you may be able to receive punitive damages. Gross negligence is like ordinary negligence in that it also projects liability onto those who do not act reasonably. However, gross negligence goes further than ordinary negligence because it only occurs when the person (defendant) acts so unreasonably that it is almost intentional. Gross negligence is a conscious and voluntary disregard of the need to use reasonable care.
Punitive damages are different because it is money paid to the plaintiff by the defendant in order to “punish” the defendant. Punitive damages are not to reward the plaintiff, but to deter the defendant from repeating his or her reckless conduct. However, there are limitations to punitive damages. In Florida, there is a cap on the amount of punitive damages available in a personal injury lawsuit. Punitive damages may not exceed the greater of:
- Three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded or
- The sum of $500,000. (See the full text of the law here).
What type of crimes can form the basis of security negligence claims?
Murder, assault, robbery, armed robbery, larceny, and sexual assault are the common crimes that create a basis for security negligence claims.
Signs of Security Negligence
Signs of security negligence are usually when an individual has been criminally injured in some way on commercial property. Security negligence claims typically occur at malls, gas stations, convenience stores, shopping centers, hotels, motels, office buildings, college campuses, schools, and parking lots/garages.
Even though the third-party criminal does the crime, the property owner that owed a duty to provide adequate security is the person at fault in security negligence claims (i.e. they are the defendant and not the actual perpetrator).
How to Prove a Negligence Claim
In any tort claim, there are elements that must be proven to the court to establish the defendant’s liability (i.e. tort liability). Negligence falls under the umbrella of tort law. Thus, in order to prove that a defendant was negligent, you must prove all four elements of negligence:
- breach of duty
You must prove all four and not just one or two of the elements.
The first element that must be proven is whether the defendant owed a “duty of care” to the plaintiff. The duty of care is a standard in tort law to act as a reasonable person. This duty of care can be owed by a person or a business. For example, landlords who owe a duty of care to those who come on the property, and business owners who owe a duty of care to those who enter the business, including employees and customers.
Breach of Duty:
The second element that must be proven is that the duty of care was breached by the defendant acting (or failing to act) in a certain way. For instance, if a landlord breaches the duty of care by failing to install handrails on a staircase, then the second element has been met.
The third element, causation, is that the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions (or inaction) caused the plaintiff’s injury. In other words, the defendant must have caused the harm to occur.
Causation splits into two types:
- actual cause
- proximate cause
A plaintiff must establish both types of causation in order to prove the element of causation.
- Actual cause is exactly what it sounds like: did the defendant actually cause the harm? Actual cause is sometimes referred to as cause-in-fact.
- On the other hand, proximate cause is an extremely complex concept. Put simply, proximate cause asks whether the defendant’s actions (or inactions) caused a foreseeable consequence. Proximate cause is sometimes referred to as legal cause.
The final element of proof of negligence is damages. For this element, the plaintiff must show that he or she was injured or suffered damage as a result of the defendant’s actions (or inactions). Damages can be proven by personal injury, property damage, and in some cases, punitive damages.
The law of negligence is very complex and can be difficult to understand. Each case has a unique set of facts that make it difficult to determine whether or not you have a solid claim of gross negligence. Let us help you make that determination easier.