Negligent Security

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Negligent security is a type of premises liability that holds property owners civilly liable for crimes and other violent acts committed by third parties on their property. Examples of injuries that might lead to a negligent security claim are robberies, rapes, assaults, and batteries. 

A plaintiff injured on another’s property can bring a negligent security claim against the property owner based on the duty imposed on landowners and possessors of property to implement reasonable security measures to protect lawful visitors from the foreseeable crimes of third parties. Negligent security claims rest on the theory that the crime could have been prevented or would have been less likely if the property owner or possessor had taken appropriate security measures. 

Negligent security applies to both residential and commercial landowners and possessors. However, the duties of residential and commercial property owners may differ. For instance, a college student cannot provide adequate security in their dorm room, so the university has the duty to provide adequate security measures. Further, a commercial tenant at a mall has a duty to protect customers from foreseeable criminal attacks. In contrast, a residential tenant has a duty to control what happens to their guests inside their apartment but does not have a duty to take adequate security measures to protect those guests in the apartment complex’s parking lot or common areas. 

Proof in Negligent Security Claims

A plaintiff in a negligent case must prove that the landowner or possessor did not exercise reasonable care to discover prior criminal acts on the property or did not give visitors adequate warning so they could take precautions to avoid injury. The plaintiff will also need to prove that they were lawfully present on the defendant’s land. Additionally, they must prove that the defendant breached their duty to provide reasonable security, that they were harmed because of a third party’s reasonably foreseeable actions, and that they would not have been harmed had the defendant not breached its duty.

As a lawyer will share, foreseeability is the most important of these elements. Most courts would hold that a third party’s actions were foreseeable if prior similar crimes occurred on the defendant’s property that the defendant knew or should have known about. Courts might also consider whether and how often law enforcement has been called to the property, the nature of previous crimes committed on the property, and the amount of time between the act that led to the plaintiff’s injury and the prior criminal acts. 

What Constitutes Adequate Security?

The amount and kind of security considered adequate will vary depending on the property and the type of crime committed. Suppose violent personal crimes occur on the property. In that case, good security might entail having trained security officers present during business hours or when guests are present, installing appropriate lighting and adequate security hardware, and implementing a restriction on making duplicate keys at residential properties.

Some states grant the defendant an inference that they were not negligent if they have taken particular types of security measures. Some states provide a presumption against liability for third-party criminal attacks. For example, convenience stores where the store owner has taken specified precautions such as installing a security camera system, putting up a sign that says the cash register contains less than $50 and using a drop safe.  

Thanks to Eglet Adams for their insight on negligent security claims.