Property Owners Liability - Inadequate Security

 According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR), in 2005, there were an estimated 1,390,695 violent crimes reported nationwide. These statistics represented an increase of 2.3% in violent crimes over the previous year.  Sadly, most victims that suffer a crime aren’t even aware that they might have a civil case. Over and over gain they are told by policed that there is nothing that can be done about the incident when many times the police are simply not aware of the legal alternatives available to victims. Often times, even lawyers are not aware of potential lawsuits.

Common targets of premises liability with an emphasis on inadequate security include:

  • Churches (clergy abuse)
  • Apartment Complexes/Office Buildings
  • Gun Owners, Weapons

The issue is what the property owner knew OR should have known. The owner/occupier has a duty to exercise reasonable care in the management of the premises to ensure persons are protected from an unreasonable risk of harm.

Who Do Victims Seek Damages From?

A premises liability case is rarely designed to go after the person who committed the crime who has few assets but rather structured to focus on the assets of third-parties who may be found liable.  For instance, a woman may have been sexually assaulted while at an upscale business office. The lawsuit can then be filed against the building owner and their insurance company as well as the security firm hired to provide protection.

The following is information on premises liability and inadequate security to help you better understand the law and how it may affect you or a loved one.

Case Study -- Beautifying an Unsafe Building

Often times a property owner will make an effort to “clean up” the exterior of a rundown and troubled property by applying new paint or perhaps adding some landscaping, but fails to do anything about the underlying issues of crime and violence etc. In truth, their short term efforts may actually create a more dangerous situation because they are suggesting by the work they have done, that the property is safer than it actually is in reality. When and if an accident occurs the property owner can be held liable for failure to make the premises reasonably safe.

Below is a case study to help demonstrate a premises liability case that focuses on inadequate security:

A woman, on a limited budget is searching for a new apartment. She finds one in a trouble neighborhood but the building looks as if it has been “cleaned up.” She moves in and shortly thereafter she is attacked.
She retains a lawyer and during the investigation the lawyer discovers from the maintenance worker that the property was never “safe” even after the work applied to the building exterior. Meanwhile, each week the worker gather up formaldehyde that local children are soaking their marijuana in to increase their high, he repair the apartments weekly were prostitutes have broken in to use them for “meetings” and the apartment is located in between two rival gang neighborhoods. When the client first stepped foot onto the property, she noticed a sign that read “Ask us about our weekend activities.”

ANALYSIS - The property refresh and these misleading marketing practices were offering a false sense of security to its tenants. 

Many people that suffer these crimes due to inadequate security rarely find a lawyer that can help them in these matters. In fact, the majority of these potential cases are never filed because the victim is unaware of their rights. In some cases a client has been to multiple lawyers before finding one that realized a viable case was indeed an option.

Examples of Premises Liability, Inadequate Lawsuits:

  • Poor workplace security
  • DUI (suing the commercial establishment that serves underage minors or over serves someone of legal age)
  • Violent Crimes
  • Weapon Mishandling

Liability Investigation

The above items will help determine what happened and who is liable. If the case is large enough and serious enough, your attorney may choose to hire an investigator to do the research above with them.  As part of the investigation, your attorney will also look at additional facts to get a better understanding of your case and how to present it:

Witnesses – A lawyer will want to know if there were any witnesses to the incident and if so what they remember.

Incident Report – If the accident occurs on a commercial property, especially a retail store, then there will most likely be an incident report that outlines the accident in detail. Your lawyer will want to read what the company documented from their perspective.

Police Report – If the accident was serious enough to involve an ambulance and immediate medical attention your lawyer will also want a copy of those records.

Medical Records – Whether you saw your own medical doctor or took a trip to the emergency room, your lawyer will request   a copy of your medical records for review so they can better understand your injuries.

Listening to your Story- It is important to explain your story in its entirety (although painful at times) to your lawyer. Your lawyer will need to evaluate possible liabilities that may exist and how may be at fault for failure to live up to their responsibilities.

Insurance – Most insurance will not cover intentional acts – including violent acts and murder. In such cases, the attorneys responsibility is to look for others who may have known or should have known of the danger but failed to act.

Premises Liability, Inadequate Security Case Facts

Consideration of all the facts – The attorney will look at those who knew or should have known there was a safety issue and failed to do something about it.

Most of these types of cases are connected to a homicide. The family is seeking something good from a tragic situation. These types of cases can often have a dramatic impact at eliminating an unsafe environment. 

Premises liability cases can be extremely expensive to prosecute while also being consuming to investigate. Man cases require expert testimonies to help build a case.  These types of cases usually take longer than a standard case. A good attorney will want to determine what went wrong on their own. At times that will come from an unlikely witness (such as a co-worker) but these relationships take time to develop.  And, depending on the case it can be difficult to find an expert.

Safety and Prevention

While the requirements may vary from state to state, periodic inspections tailored to the needs of the property can dramatically reduce the number of falls and premises liability incidents that occur. The inspections should be performed by a trained individual in hazard recognition.

Any identified hazards should be addressed immediately to help reduce exposure to invitees, trespassers and licensees. Management follow-up is vitally important to ensure the defects are corrected or the proper warnings are established in a timely manner.

Be aware, if you are an individual, you need to understand that no one can guarantee absolute safety. Be aware of your surroundings and try to avoid dangerous situations and places at all costs when necessary.

Finding an Attorney

The most important thing in a premises liability case is finding a lawyer that specializes in this type of case. Every community should have a few lawyers that handle these types of cases but you will need to do some research.
Most lawyers will almost always only take a case where they represent an absolutely innocent person, someone that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Juries tend to blame the victims if you give them any excuses such as the victim was drunk, at a bar etc.

Read the next article:  Legal Issues and Property Owners Liability 

Contact an attorney in your area.