Negligent Security

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 a 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.

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 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 violence 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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