As a general rule, individuals and businesses can’t be held responsible for intentional criminal actions of someone else. One of the primary exceptions under Florida law pertains to negligent security, a form of premises liability.
Property and business owners have a legal duty to provide guests with a safe environment, free of harm resulting from intentional criminal acts of third parties – when those acts are foreseeable. A “foreseeable” act is one that can be reasonably expected given the location and/or circumstances.
Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, know there are few experiences more emotionally wrenching than losing a loved one to violence. It’s important for survivors to understand that in addition to remedy offered by the criminal justice system, civil litigation may be brought against businesses or property owners when those entities failed to enact reasonable prevention that would have curtailed offender’s opportunity to commit the crime.
Some examples of situations that might give rise to a wrongful death caused by negligent security include:
- Work place violence resulting from negligent hiring or failure to adequately screen visitors or employees
- Attacks in poorly-lit stairwells, parking lots or elevators
- Absence of security cameras, attendants or security guards
- Forced entry into doors with defective or non-existent locks in hotels, apartment complexes, college dorms, etc.
- Failure to protect those at ATMs (Automated Teller Machines)
When a property owner does not put the proper safety and security measures in place, it puts residents, workers, customers, clients and guests on the property at great risk of serious danger. Inadequate security can lead to:
- Rape and sexual assault
Our experienced legal team works with investigators, criminologists and industry safety experts to identify the ways in which on-site security (or lack thereof) failed in its duty to protect people from foreseeable danger.Foreseeability in Negligent Security Cases
Property owners are not considered the absolute insurers of guest safety, but it is established there is a duty to implement reasonable safety measures and to take reasonable precautionary measures where criminal acts are foreseeable.
The key in any negligent security case is proving the criminal act was “reasonably foreseeable.” This is where evidence of prior acts can be important.
The Florida Supreme Court set the “foreseeable zone of risk” standard with its 1992 decision in McCaine v. Florida Power Corp. The court held that where defendant’s conduct creates a foreseeable zone of risk, a legal duty is generally recognized to ensure conduct is carried out reasonably. In order to be liable for third-party criminal conduct, defendant must be in actual or constructive control of:
- The instrumentality
- The premises where the crime was committed
- The criminal
(Michael & Philip, Inc. v. Sierra, Fla. 4th DCA 2000.)
Negligent security cases focus on defendant’s control of the premises.
Some cases will rely on proper owner’s actual or constructive knowledge of a specific third-party’s inclination toward crime. However, this is not the sole means of determining foreseeability.
In the Florida Supreme Court’s 1983 decision in Stevens v. Jefferson, justices held foreseeability can be proven by showing that, based on past experience, a business or property owner knew or should have recognized the likelihood of disorderly conduct by third persons in general which might endanger the safety of patrons.
Appellate courts have set varying standards of proof with regard to foreseeability in negligent security cases. For example, the Third District Court of Appeal requires plaintiffs to adhere to establish a pattern of past crimes that are similar, geographically proximate and temporally proximate. Meanwhile, the Fourth District Court of Appeal, joined later by the Fifth and First, applied a standard that is more generous to plaintiffs, allowing evidence of prior dissimilar crimes is relevant and admissible in proving foreseeability. (It’s worth noting the Fifth and First appellate districts have adopted a strict geographical test relative to prior crimes, meaning the alleged prior acts had to have occurred on site, and not simply nearby.)
Because the issue of foreseeability in the establishment of duty in negligent security wrongful death cases is open to such wide interpretation, it’s imperative that those exploring a wrongful death lawsuit on this basis consult with an experienced law firm with a proven track record of results.
Contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.
Call 800-646-1210 for a Free Consultation