Negligent Security Lawsuits in Maryland

Negligent security lawsuits are a part of Maryland’s premises liability tort scheme. Under Maryland law, property owners have a duty to ensure that people on their premises are not the victims of foreseeable crimes. When a property owner fails to provide adequate protection and crime results, he or she may be liable.

Property owners have an increased duty of care when they open their premises to the public for business. This makes sense because when people come to public places, they expect a higher level of safety and security.

Suing for Suing for Negligent or Inadequate Security

Owners and managers of commercial properties have a legal obligation to make sure those properties are safe and secure for customers, residents, visitors, and the like. This obligation is not limited to putting to a caution sign on a slippery wet floor or eliminating fire and tripping hazards. Commercial property owners also have an obligation to provide safety and security from foreseeable criminal activity.

Suing a property owner or manager for negligent or inadequate security is a special type of premises liability lawsuit. Plaintiffs in negligent security cases are generally patrons who are visiting a commercial property and get criminally assaulted and injured. If the assault could have been prevented (or made less likely) by reasonable and appropriate security measures at the property, the victim has a valid lawsuit against the owner and/or manager of that property.

Negligent security claims typically involve commercial or retail properties such as apartment complexes, shopping centers, parking garages, hotels, and other properties with invited patrons or guests. Negligent or insufficient security at a commercial property can range from things like inadequate lighting to a lack of security guards or working door locks. Here are some common, hypothetical examples of negligent security that our lawyers see.

EXAMPLE 1: Parking garage is located in a high-crime area. The garage is automated with no human attendants or security guards. It has poor lighting and only one security camera at the entrance. A woman returning to her car late at night is robbed and assaulted. She has a valid claim against the garage owner because the assault could have been prevented or deterred by a security guard, better lighting, cameras, etc.

EXAMPLE 2: Apartment complex is located in the downtown area. There is no doorman or security guard. There are some security cameras but their presence is not obvious. Access to the outdoor common area and lobby requires a keycard; however, the keycard access system has been broken for some time allowing anyone to enter. A tenant at the complex is violently assaulted in the common area by an angry ex-boyfriend who entered through the broken access gate and waited for her to come home. She has a valid claim against the apartment complex for negligent security.

EXAMPLE 3: A popular bar and nightclub serves alcohol to large crowds of relatively young patrons. Alcohol-induced fights, altercations, and assaults have happened at similar establishments but never at this particular bar. The bar owner has only one security guard at the front door and no formal policy of non-service to patrons who appear to be too drunk or aggressive. Group of young men come in and get very intoxicated and aggressive. Bartended continues to serve them and they eventually assault and injured 2 other patrons. Assault lasts nearly 20 minutes before police arrive. The injured patrons have a valid claim against the bar for inadequate security.

Negligent Security Verdicts and Settlements

Below are recent jury verdicts and publicly disclosed settlements in lawsuits involving claims of negligent or inadequate security against property owners. Remember these verdicts and settlements are large because the harm caused is so severe. Not many lawyers are taking negligent security cases unless the losses are extreme.

  • St Fleur v Creekside By Tag LLC (Georgia 2018) $3 million: Two young male bystanders were shot and killed in a gang-related drive-by shooting at a notorious, crime-riddled apartment complex in Atlanta, Ga. The wrongful death suit against the owner of the complex and the security firm alleged 300 separate safety and security violations at the complex in support of their negligent security claim. Evidence was also presented to suggest that the security guards were actually getting paid for allowing drug sales and allowing residents to be victimized. The case was ultimately settled for $3 million.
  • Crisp v McDonalds Corp. (Texas 2017) $27 million: In this sad case a teenage couple was violently assaulted by a mob of 15-20 attackers while in the parking lot of a McDonalds near Texas A&M University. The male victim was apparently beaten to death during the assault. The female victim was attempting to rush him to the hospital when she ran a red light and was struck and killed herself by another vehicle. The families of both teens sued McDonald's for providing negligent security at the restaurant. Plaintiff’s had evidence that police were regularly called to break up late-night fights at the location involving large groups of people. The McDonalds never hired security or installed cameras. After a 6-day trial, the jury awarded $27 million.
  • Sweeting v Oaks at Miami Gardens HOA (Florida 2017) $1 million: A 17-year-old boy was shot and killed walking home from school at the defendant’s condo complex where he lived with his mother. His mother sued the condo for premises liability alleging that the complex had a long history of violent crime including prior murders, shootings, robberies, and assaults. Despite this high-crime history defendant failed to adopt any security measures. In fact, just prior to the shooting the complex discontinued a security guard program and allowed the access gates to fall into disrepair. These shortcomings allegedly permitted the gunmen to gain access to the condo complex. The case settled for $1 million policy limit.
  • Estate v Owner (Massachusetts 2017) $2 million: Female decedent was standing in the courtyard of the defendant’s apartment building talking to residents when she was shot and killed by a stray bullet from a gunfight outside the building. The building was in a high-crime area and her estate sued the owner claiming that it should have provided better security such as access controls and perimeter monitoring and security. The case quickly settled for $2 million.
  • Matthews v Pete’s Bar (Florida 2016) $18 million: A bar fight broke out at the defendant’s tavern just before closing time. Plaintiff, a male in his early 30s who was a regular patron at the bar, stepped in to help break up the fight. He was struck by another patron and fell, hitting his head on the cement floor. He was in a coma for 2 months and suffered permanent brain damage leaving him unable to walk to talk. He sued the bar claiming it was negligent in failing to provide adequate security and failing to train their personnel in how to properly deal with unruly patrons.
  • Rankin v Park One of Florida (Florida 2016) $1.8 million: Group of 3 sisters got into a verbal altercation with a group of strangers at a parking garage in Miami’s South Beach area. After the verbal fight in the elevator, the strangers followed the sisters and beat them into unconsciousness. They sued the owner and manager of the parking garage claiming that security at the garage was non-existent. Defendants claimed that the sisters provoked the altercation with their own conduct. The jury found that the sisters were only 5% at fault and awarded $1.8 million in damages.
  • Huang v Westchase Apartment (Florida 2014) $3 million: A 23-year-old man was delivering food from his family’s Chinese restaurant to an apartment complex in Fort Myers when he was shot and killed in a robbery attempt. His family sued the apartment complex alleging that the robbery and death of their son could have been prevented had the complex provided proper security.
  • Estate v Owner (Massachusetts 2017) $2 million: Female decedent was standing in the courtyard of the defendant’s apartment building talking to residents when she was shot and killed by a stray bullet from a gunfight outside the building. The building was in a high-crime area and her estate sued the owner claiming that it should have provided better security such as access controls and perimeter monitoring and security. The case quickly settled for $2 million.
Hire a Negligent Security Lawyer

Negligent security lawsuits are often high stakes with very serious injuries or death involved. If you have a negligent security claim you need a good, effective team of lawyers on your side. Contact the personal injury attorneys at Miller & Zois at 800-553-8082 or contact us online.

Proving a Negligent Security Case in Marylandparkinggaragelawyer

The analysis of whether there may be liability in a negligent security case in Maryland begins with the question duty. What duty did the property owner owe the victim? Historically, the general rule has been that there is no duty to protect patrons or anyone else from criminal acts of a third party. But Maryland has carved out many exceptions to this rule. Exceptions to the general rule that actors owe no duty to individuals for the tortious acts of third parties include: a) custodial control over the tortfeasor, b) a special relationship, and c) a statutory duty.

A 2016 case helps our cause in negligent security cases. In Kyriakos v. Phillips, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Maryland law will find a duty of care where a defendant engages in affirmative conduct creating a foreseeable risk of third-party harms, even in the absence of a special relationship or control. This duty is imposed not because the defendants own affirmative, dangerous conduct increased the foreseeable risk of third-party harms.

So to have a failure to provide adequate protection case, a plaintiff must prove that the property owner owed them a certain duty of care, that this duty of care was negligently breached, and that this breach was a contributing factor to their harm. As these cases often deal with criminal acts, the negligence of the property owner does not have to be the primary cause of the plaintiff’s harm. Rather, the plaintiff only has to prove that the owner’s failure to meet the duty of care was one element that increased the likelihood of danger or harm.

Security usually involves a building or space open to the public and a security problem that the owner could have avoided. These cases often take place at:

  • College campuses
  • Parking lots
  • Shopping malls
  • Bars and restaurants
  • Theaters
  • Nursing homes and hospitals
  • ATM kiosks

Failure to avoid foreseeable harm is negligence on the part of the property owner. Negligent acts can include:

  • Failure to background check employees for criminal records
  • Negligent sale of alcohol
  • Inadequate lighting
  • Failure to limit access to the premises
  • Failure to section off dangerous parts of a building
  • Failure to warn of the property's dangers
  • Inadequate or undertrained staff
  • Lack of surveillance

Often the issues in these cases hinge on foreseeability. Sometimes a successful breached security case will involve a property owner who had previous warnings about the potential for danger on their premises. For instance, if 10 mall shoppers had been mugged in the parking lot in the previous 30 days, the property owners would be on notice that it is likely that there will be an eleventh victim. If no steps are taken to decrease the likelihood of future violence and another person is victimized, the mall owners will probably be liable for negligent security.

This is not to say that a claim will not be successful unless there have been previous instances of crime. For example, if a college with no record of campus violence fails to background check its employees and a campus security guard with a history of violent assaults a student, it is likely that the college will be liable for damages because it did not take reasonable steps to ensure the security of its students. Elsewhere on our website, we look at some of the Maryland appellate issues on the question of foreseeability in negligent security cases. The nutshell is that Maryland courts have been inconsistent in making the call as to what risks of harm are foreseeable.

Perhaps the only thing worse than serious physical injury or being the victim of a criminal act is knowing that your situation could have been avoided. This is why negligent security lawsuits are so important: they are meant to compensate victims who should have never been victims.

We handle premises liability cases throughout Maryland. If you want to get more information on your claim, call our lawyers at 1-800-553-8082 or get a free Internet consultation.

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