As a person deals with the legal system after being the victim of a criminal act, they may come across the term “negligent security” or “inadequate security”. This is a civil suit that can be brought against the owner of a property after a criminal act is committed. The idea is that the property owner had a certain level of responsibility in providing adequate security and therefore may be considered responsible for compensation due to the victim.
It’s not always obvious who the “property owner” is under the law. In some cases, it’s fairly cut and dry, of course. The person who owns a gas station is considered responsible for the security of that gas station since they own it.
However, there are several situations in which it’s not always clear. For example, a person who rents an apartment might be responsible for providing security within their home, but not responsible once the guest leaves the apartment that they rent. Likewise, a college student can’t be considered responsible for providing security in their dorm room, since they have very little control over modifications to said dorm. Therefore the college would be required to provide the security.
In general, the person who has immediate control over the property is considered the owner in terms of adequate security.
Under the Restatement of Torts, the plaintiff must prove that the property owner failed to exercise reasonable care in terms of learning about prior criminal activities on the property. They also must show that the property owner failed to give adequate warning to any visitor so that the visitor could be prepared to defend themselves if need be.
In addition, the plaintiff must show that they were on the property legally. If they were not on the property legally then the property owner has no responsibility to ensure their safety. Then the plaintiff must prove the property owner failed to provide reasonable security, and that the acts that occurred were reasonably foreseeable. Lastly, the plaintiff must prove that they would not have been damaged if the property owner had provided adequate security and that they incurred actual damages.
The most difficult part of this is foreseeability. There are a number of factors involved in deciding whether or not an event was foreseeable. The court will factor in whether or not a similar act has occurred in the past, how often the act has occurred if similar acts have occurred (if a violent robbery happened on the property, have there been other violent crimes), and how often law enforcement has been called out.
Those are some of the factors, but not all of them. In addition, courts won’t always judge on the same criteria or come to the same decision based on the same evidence. For example, if a number of non-violent crimes occurred on the property but the plaintiff is suing over the first violent crime, the court may rule the violent crime was unforeseeable. Since all the prior crime had been non-violent, there was no reason to presume a violent crime would happen.
Context is everything, especially in civil court. Adequate security will differ depending on the property, the crime in question, and even the state. Different states will often have different laws regarding what kind of security different business properties must have.
Florida, for example, requires convenience stores to have cameras, use a drop safe, and keep only $50 in cash in the register. Should a convenience store follow these guidelines, the state considers them to have adequate security for criminal acts committed on property no matter what the act.
If a criminal act has happened on your property, you should consult a lawyer immediately. Check to ensure your security is considered adequate, and if not see how quickly you can get it up to code. You should also ensure your liability insurance is kept up to date so that potential problems can be settled out of court.