How Shootings Push the Boundaries of Premises Liability and Negligent Security Law
Shootings occupy a particularly dark corner of the American imagination. We understandably fret about exposure to horrific, life-changing suffering for our simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Headline-grabbing mass-events aside, there is a strong risk we could become caught in the crosshairs of an “everyday” act of criminality or violence involving a weapon. Senseless acts that are more predictable, and even preventable.
One of the most challenging scenarios in negligent security law concerns shootings, and countless catastrophic injuries and losses of life can be traced back to the negligence of premises’ owners.
Let’s revisit the definition of negligent security. In these cases, a victim must first demonstrate that the property owner or other commercial entity had a duty of care toward the plaintiff or anyone else lawfully on their premises. These cases are, indeed, a specific type of premises liability.
The second and third standards are proving the property owner or commercial entity negligently did not undertake sufficient security measures to protect their patrons, and that the insufficiency or lack of such security measures caused a victim to be hurt or killed.
There must also be an element of foreseeability. Imagine a landlord owns commercial property in a neighborhood with higher-than-average criminal activity, and also knows of several instances in the past where patrons were mugged or assaulted outside of stores or in the parking lot. Still, there are only a limited number of security cameras, none of which are placed for high visibility, and no round-the-clock security. So, when a patron lawfully on the premises is later shot in a robbery-gone-wrong, he can sue the landlord based on a duty of care and a clear breach of that duty based on those facts.
Many cases are not quite so easy. A few years ago in Connecticut, a concertgoer launched a suit against an artist and his record label, as well as the venue’s property owner, when he was shot at a show. He sued for both physical and emotional injuries. But what made this premises liability case different was trying to hold the artist and his label partly responsible. The plaintiff reasoned the lyrics of many songs were violent, and that the artist had a history of gun violence at other shows. He eventually dropped the lawsuit. But for attorneys in the region and beyond, the seed was planted: Just how far can the foreseeability rule go? How predictable is a catastrophic incident like a shooting?
Predicting headline-grabbing mass shootings may be tragically elusive. Some plaintiffs may also challenge the boundaries of liability and find themselves at a loss. None of this negates the responsibility of property owners. Crime statistics that could establish foreseeability are at everyone’s fingertips. It isn’t complicated to ensure that, regardless of crime rates, investments are made in security measures like cameras, guards or gates. These may be costly in the short-term, but hardly more than exposure to liability when patrons are put at risk — or worse.
A negligent security lawyer like the professionals at Circeo Fannin, highly experienced in premises liability cases involving shootings, are invaluable in exploring your options if you have been hurt, or even simply to talk through questions.