By Lucy Carmel, THELAW.TV
Negligent security takes many forms, ranging from slip-and-fall accidents to homicides that could have been deterred.
Properties such as apartment complexes, hotels, shopping centers, bars and nightclubs have an obligation to make sure tenants and visitors are reasonably safe on their premises and in their parking lots.
Property owners need to be proactive by becoming familiar with criminal activity in and around their property.
“Crime can travel from one building and one property to another,” says Hyram M. Montero, P.A., and President of Montero Law. “So it’s the owner’s responsibility to know what’s happening in the area, not just on their premises.”
Property owners can acquire that information from their local police, oftentimes for free. This police report of ongoing crime in the vicinity is the first step in implementing security initiatives to deter crime.
Criminals are everywhere, and crime can happen anywhere. But property owners should look at every way they can protect visitors so they feel relatively secure.
For example, does the property’s parking lot have adequate and working lighting? Is the alarm system functional? Are there structural walls, gates, trees, or fences that close the property up to make it more difficult for potential criminals to enter? If there are security personnel, are there an adequate number of guards, and have they been properly trained? If security is outsourced, has the security company been vetted, and is it reputable?
Negligent security stems from the landowners’ unwillingness or inaction in doing any of these things.
Montero has worked on a variety of negligent security cases. In one instance, an apartment complex tenant became a victim of strong-armed robbery when walking from the parking lot toward his apartment unit. In another case, a female hotel guest became a victim of sexual abuse when another hotel guest forced himself into her room. Another case involved a nightclub, where a patron left and was beaten up by other patrons in the parking lot.
In a negligent security case, the jury is going to examine whether both the property owner and the victim did everything they could to deter the crime. Just because a criminal act occurred doesn’t mean the victim will win in court.
“Negligent security isn’t based on premise that crime is preventable, but that crime can be deterred,” Montero explains. “Do you have measures and methods on your property to deter crime? If so, then property owner would be safe in negligent security case.”
These cases are difficult to litigate and successfully present before a jury. In some cases, the jury will determine that the owner did everything he or she could have done, or that circumstances such as victims being intoxicated put them at fault.
Under Florida law, for example, victims who are intoxicated above the legal limit at time of the crime are considered more than 50 percent responsible for the incident due to their own negligence.
There are also cases where jury will conclude that there has been an escalation of crime in the area and on the property, so the crime was foreseeable, but the owner did nothing to address the issue.
“All of these cases come down to common sense, on the part of the property owner and on the part of the victim,” says Montero.
How a negligent security case will play out in court could also depends on the state and the season.
During the holidays, owners of shopping complexes have an obligation to beef up security for the busy season.
“There are more customers with cash and more customers preoccupied with bags of presents and products purchased,” says Montero. “They’re more vulnerable.”
Regardless of the time of year or the property’s location, property owners should make their property more welcoming to guests, not criminals.
Hyram Montero of Montero Law practices personal injury, criminal defense and immigration law in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.