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Understanding Negligent Security Claims

Offered by Johnson Greer Law Group

When you’re hurt due to poor security, you have rights

Crime can affect people from all walks of life, and while the criminal justice system can provide consequences for the offenders, victims need to turn to the civil justice system for compensation for the injuries they have sustained.

Often, the best way for victims of assault, battery, sexual assault, or rape, as well as families of homicide victims, to recover compensation is through a negligent security claim against the owner of the property where the crime occurred.

What is a negligent security claim?

Negligent security claims are an application of premises liability law, which is the area of personal injury law dealing with property owners’ responsibility to maintain safe premises. Property owners are not responsible for every incident that happens on their property, but they are responsible for offering reasonable security measures and protecting lawful visitors from foreseeable crimes.

For victims, suing the owner or possessor of the property (as opposed to the person who committed the crime) is often a better route to compensation because the owner usually has insurance to pay for their damages. It’s also usually easier to locate the owner of a property than the perpetrator of a crime, who may never be caught.

A negligent security claim is a civil matter separate and distinct from any criminal charges that may be filed in connection with the same incident. Keep in mind that the standard of proof in civil cases (preponderance of the evidence) is lower than the standard of proof in criminal cases (beyond reasonable doubt), so it may be possible to win a negligent security claim even if the perpetrator of the crime is acquitted in criminal court.

What must be proven in a negligent security case?

As in any personal injury case, the plaintiff (injured person) needs to prove that the negligent party (in this case, the property owner or manager) failed to meet a duty of care and their carelessness led to the injury. Specifically, the property owner must have failed to exercise reasonable care to maintain safe premises, given the known dangers of the property or the neighborhood.

One key consideration in a negligent security case is whether the crime was “foreseeable;” that is, whether a reasonable person in the property owner’s position would consider it likely that a crime could occur on the premises. Previous similar crimes committed on the premises or in the vicinity could contribute to foreseeability. A court considering a negligent security claim could also consider how frequently law enforcement has been called to the property, whether previous crimes were violent, and whether they happened soon before the injury at issue or many years before.

The plaintiff also needs to show that the injury could have been reasonably prevented, or at least reduced in likelihood, with reasonable security measures on the premises. “Reasonable” is the key here, of course – the law does not expect every property owner to maintain wall-to-wall security presence 24 hours a day, even though that would no doubt prevent some crimes, because it would not be reasonably practical to do. However, it is reasonable to expect a bar to employ a bouncer who could break up an altercation before someone gets injured, or for a property owner to maintain the fencing around the property to stop criminals from entering. Reasonable security measures may include appropriate lighting, adequately trained security patrols, functional locks with appropriately limited access to keys, and cameras.

The duty of care owed by the owner or possessor of a property can vary significantly depending on the property owner’s role and position. For example, a tenant in a rental property may be responsible for security within the portion of the property they rent, but the owner is likely responsible for security in common areas or the parking lot. A college or university has a very high duty of care to its students because they have little control over security even in their own dorm rooms, whereas a condo association may have less responsibility for security within individually owned units.

The property owner’s duty of care may also depend on the victim’s status on the property at the time of the incident. In general, property owners owe a higher duty of care to people on the property by invitation, a lower duty to people on the premises for their own benefit, and the lowest duty to trespassers, but even a trespasser may be able to file a negligent security claim under some circumstances.

Talk to an experienced negligent security lawyer in your state today

The laws pertaining to negligent security are complex and vary significantly from state to state. Your legal rights in a given situation may depend not only on the location, but the time the incident happened, your legal status on the property, and the surrounding circumstances. Key pieces of evidence in a negligent security case, such as camera footage or physical evidence, can disappear quickly. Witnesses may forget what they saw. There is also a legal deadline, called the statute of limitations, which varies from state to state.

That’s why it’s critical that you speak with an attorney about your legal rights and options as soon as possible. If you’ve been assaulted or lost a loved one to crime because of inadequate security, talk to an experienced negligent security lawyer in your area today.

The Law Office of George S. Johnson is a personal injury law firm in Decatur, GA.

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