Property owners, most often business owners, can be held liable for injuries to persons who lawfully come onto their premises and are injured by the unlawful acts of third parties. The major issue regarding liability is whether the danger which caused the injury was foreseeable. As an example, a bar owner is not liable for injuries caused by a previously unknown patron who randomly attacks another person inside the bar. The outcome would be vastly different if the attacker was a known violent drunk who had threatened harm to others in the past. The same would be true if the bar was known to attract potentially violent patrons and the owner failed to hire security personnel to protect his customers. This same concept applies whether the attack occurs in a store parking lot, an apartment complex, a motel or a college campus..
In each circumstance, common sense is usually the best defense to avoid becoming the next victim of a violent crime in an otherwise public place. Many of these crimes occur at night, in poorly lit areas where there are few people and no security personnel present. If the owners of such properties knew or should have known the dangers presented, they have an affirmative duty to take reasonable steps to minimize the danger. These steps are usually as simple as installing proper lighting and security cameras, and hiring off-duty police or security officers to patrol the property. Believe it or not, in my career both as a prosecutor and as a plaintiff's attorney, I have seen too many instances where property and business owners have ignored the obvious signs of danger for the sake of saving money and left one of their patrons, traumatized, injured or worse. Having also practiced as a defense attorney for a short while, the last expression I would ever want to hear in a courtroom from the plaintiff's attorney was "profits over safety".
When I first meet with a client who has been the victim of in a potential negligent security case, there are a number of steps which I immediately take. First, since a law enforcement agency is usually involved, I immediately make a public records request for any and all police reports, witness statements, photographs and other crime scene processing reports. I also reach out to the investigating detectives and offer to assist them with both my client and in locating any additional evidence which might prove helpful. I request a complete copy of my client's medical treatment reports.
However, while the evidence establishing the crime itself is important, even more essential is locating proof that the incident was in fact foreseeable. This involves research into both the personal knowledge of the property owner regarding the danger, and also extrinsic evidence that a foreseeable danger did exist. This is most easily accomplished by requesting a "crime grid" from the local law enforcement agency which is basically a catalogue of the prior crimes that had been reported over a few year's time in the immediate area prior to the attack upon my client. This can be powerful evidence to rebut a landlord or bar owner's assertions that they just weren't aware that the neighborhood or establishment attracted dangerous individuals.
In most cases it is also advisable to retain a security expert - often ex- law enforcement who can testify as to what should have been done to protect the public given the circumstances. Once the case moves into the litigation phase, I always request any and all security and emergency procedure manuals used by the defendant property owner to train their employees on how to protect their customers or residents. Failing to have such manuals is damaging to the defendant, having safety guidelines and not following them is worse.
Being the victim of a violent crime is obviously traumatic and can be life changing. If you or a loved one is placed in that unfortunate circumstance, do not hesitate to contact me at the Heyman Law Firm. I have 37 years of experience as a prosecutor and civil attorney to draw upon to assist you.