The O’Hara Law Firm represents the children of an elderly lady that was killed in the parking lot of a major retail store. The murderer was a criminal with a long history of criminal charges and convictions. There was a history of criminal activity at the store and surrounding area. The murderer was shot and killed by police shortly after he killed the victim. The family brought claims against multiple corporate defendants and obtained a seven-figure settlement with the defendants.
Premises Liability for Criminal Activity
A landowner typically does not have a duty to protect invitees from criminal acts of third persons. However, a landowner in control of the property does have a duty to protect invitees from criminal acts of other people if the landowner knows or has reason to know of an unreasonable and foreseeable risk of harm to the invitee. The risk of criminal conduct must be both unreasonable and foreseeable.
If the injured victim can prove a duty, then the victim must prove how the landowner did not take appropriate measures to prevent the crime. Common examples of inadequate security include improper lighting, lack of a fence, lack of a gate, lack of a security guard, and other related issues.
Security premises liability claims are difficult to prove. These claims require an extensive investigation. They are expensive and time consuming. Thus, these claims are typically only pursued if the crime is extremely serious such as rape or murder. The victim must have sustained serious enough injury to account for the high cost of litigation. When the case is successful, it may involve substantial compensation for the victims.
In addition, these cases often incentivize companies to increase their security and provide a safer environment for customers, tenants, employees and others. The threat of litigation causes many companies to consider security measures and not ignore the threat of crime to invitees.
The most influential case regarding property owner liability for criminal conduct is Timberwalk Apartments, Partners v. Cain. This case was decided nearly twenty-five years ago by the Texas Supreme Court. A court must consider previous crimes in the area when determining if there is a duty. The Texas Supreme Court developed five factors to consider regarding previous crimes when there is a claim against a property owner for a third party’s criminal conduct:
- Proximity: Other crimes must occur on the same property or nearby.
- Similarities: Other crimes must be similar to the crime made the basis of the lawsuit.
- Frequency: Other crimes must occur with some level of frequency to make the crime made the basis of the lawsuit foreseeable.
- Recency: Other crimes must have occurred within a reasonable period of time before the crime made the basis of the lawsuit.
- Publicity: Other crimes must be public enough for the property owner to be aware of them.
Property owners have a duty to keep invitees safe. For example, malls with a high level of crime need to provide lighting and security to protect shoppers from theft in the mall and in the parking lot. The higher the rate of crime, the more security the mall should employ to protect customers. Malls in close proximity to high crime areas often have off-duty police officers or armed security guards to provide protection for customers.
The O’Hara Law Firm has represented and evaluated claims for clients that made claims against property owners for criminal acts on their property. If you have been sexually assaulted or had a family member killed as a result of inadequate security at an apartment, mall or other place of business, contact the O’Hara Law Firm for a free consultation.