Personal Injury Premises Liability

Issues of Inadequate Security and Liability Exposed in Increase in Shootings and Violent Crime

With stories of shootings occupying the local news in the Kansas City market becoming more and more prevalent, it is worth taking note of one’s rights under the law and to look at legal issues behind these types of cases.  Our firm has successfully litigated many cases related to gun assaults, by identifying the party that should have been providing adequate security, and knowing how to work up these cases to get victims the compensation they deserve.

The yearly average number of gun assaults according to the Centers for Disease Control is 76,258. These statistics, combined with the increase in states allowing individuals to open carry and/or conceal and carry, establishes a solid foundation that any business should have property security policies and procedures for the safety of their patrons.

The term “negligent security” is used for situations in which a violent, criminal attack takes place.  This can be a shooting but it can also be an assault without a weapon, or a rape or robbery.  An example of this type of case would be where someone is followed to his/her car in a parking lot and mugged before they can get away, or an assault inside a hotel room due to inadequate security on the premises.  The law imposes a duty on businesses to keep up their property in a reasonably safe condition.

This can extend to the expectation of violent crime in the neighborhood.  In areas of increased danger, more security and more video equipment is called for, as is additional lighting and exit/entrances.  We have found in our practice that in a lot of these types of cases, the violent criminal will go to jail for their crimes, but the victim’s financial situation can include large medical bills and permanent injuries that lead to a loss of future income.

Most states follow the basic legal principle that a business owner does not owe a general duty to protect patrons from the criminal actions of third parties unless the acts are reasonably foreseeable.  To establish foreseeability, courts look for a history of criminal acts on the premises; the circumstances or characteristics of the business; and/or constructive knowledge of a specific danger.

In a recent case litigated by Langdon & Emison, an off-duty police officer sustained a fatal gunshot wound during a day-party on the premises of a popular Kansas City restaurant. The business had few prior criminal acts. In order to establish foreseeability, we utilized gun violence statistics from the surrounding area and the recent passage of gun laws that loosened restrictions to successfully establish a duty on the part of the business owner to provide adequate security.

 Here are just a few practice tips we have learned in litigating this type of case for victims of shootings and other violent crimes:

  1. Establish history of criminal acts on the premises and the surrounding area. Obtain a record of calls for service to local police departments. Most bars and restaurants will under-report incidents to protect their liquor license. Interview former employees to determine whether past criminal acts occurred.

  2. Establish liability through characteristics of the event or property such as hours of operation, serving alcohol and number of patrons.

  3. Determine security measures undertaken by the business owner, including policies and procedures; training; and the presence of licensed security verses unlicensed door staff.

  4. If your state does not allow for general liability of the business owner for the criminal actions of third persons, check the state and local laws for the business’s duties under its liquor license for a claim of negligence per se.

If a property owner does not maintain their property and you are hurt because of it, they are liable and you have the right to hold them responsible.