Negligent Security FAQs

What is negligent security?

"Negligent security" is a type of premises liability lawsuit in which the victim of a crime sues the property owner for failing to provide adequate security.

Why sue the property owner if they didn't commit the crime?

It's true that property owners are not legally responsible under criminal law for the actions of independent third parties who commit crimes on their property. Unless the property owner was directly involved in a crime, she would not face criminal charges for it. If, for example, an unknown assailant runs into a grocery store and starts stabbing shoppers with a knife, the owner of the grocery store would not be arrested or face jail time for the incident.

However, property owners do have a legally recognized obligation to ensure the safety of those on their property. That includes being aware of potential criminal activity and taking reasonable precautions to prevent it. If a property owner had reason to believe a criminal act would occur, but did not take reasonable measures to prevent it, they may be liable for injuries to the victim.

In the above example, if the grocery store owner had ignored threats previously made by the attacker or failed to increase security after two other recent stabbings in the store, she could be sued for negligent security. If the court ruled against her, she would not face jail time, but she would be required to pay damages to the injured person.

But why not sue the person who committed the crime?

After being the victim of an attack, the injured person may still have to undergo expensive medical procedures and lengthy therapy. They may be disabled and unable to work, or they may require long-term care.

It some cases, it may be possible to file a civil suit against an assailant to recover damages. Unfortunately, many criminals who commit violent acts are never identified. And even when the perpetrator is caught and convicted, they often do not have the financial resources to adequately compensate their victim. Even a favorable court decision might not be of much help to the injured person.

If a property owner created the conditions under which the crime could occur, they bear some responsibility and the victim may seek compensation.

Who can be held accountable in a negligent security case?

Typically, the owner of a property will be held accountable, although in some cases liability may be distributed among multiple parties. For example, if a landlord owned a building but relied on a property management company to maintain it, both the landlord and the property management company might be held accountable. This might also be true if an attack occurred in a store located in a shopping mall. Both the mall owners and store owners might bear responsibility. Determining liability is heavily dependent on the specifics of the case.

Can you sue a security company?

Under certain conditions, yes, it is possible to sue a security company. However, suing an independent contractor - such as a security company - is not as straightforward as suing the owners of the property. This is because the legal obligations of the two groups are not the same.

Unlike the owner of the property, a contractor does not have an assumed legal responsibility to ensure the safety of individuals on the property. Instead, the contractor's duty is toward the person or organization with which they contract.

Whether a security contractor may be held liable for injuries depends on its contractual relationship with the property owner. In some cases, the security company may be required to assume liability and pay some or all of the associated damages. It is not unusual for the property owner and security company (or other contractor) to get into contractual disputes when a negligence suit is filed.

Assuming the security company did have an obligation to prevent the plaintiff's injury, they may be liable in cases where:

  • Security guards were present, but did not monitor areas where violence was likely to occur. (For example, a security company is hired to provide security for a concert. The venue consists of an auditorium and a separate bar. The security company places guards only in the auditorium and does not monitor the crowded bar.)
  • Security guards fall asleep on the job, show up to work intoxicated, leave their posts for extended periods, or otherwise fail to provide adequate security.
  • Security guards are unnecessarily aggressive or belligerent. Their behavior precipitates or escalates violence.

Security companies that employ unqualified guards or fail to provide adequate training may also be held liable, but the type of negligence is often an employment-related one such as inadequate hiring or retention. It would not necessarily fall under the umbrella of premises liability. While the legal distinctions between types of negligence are unlikely to be of interest to a layperson, they affect how a court case must proceed.

What is the statute of limitations for negligent security cases?

In New York, the statute of limitations is generally three years for personal injury cases resulting from negligence. However, in many cases the statute of limitations may be less. Wrongful death cases must commence within two years of the person's death, and if the defendant is a government entity the injured person may have as little as ninety days to file a claim.

The laws regarding statutes of limitations are somewhat complex and include a number of exceptions. Additional complexity may arise if more than one party is named in a lawsuit. So it is best to speak to an experienced lawyer about your particular case as soon as possible.

I hear a lot about "compensation" and "damages." If I am the plaintiff in a negligent security case, what can I be compensated for?

When the parties in a negligent security case agree on a settlement, or when the court decides in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant will be required to pay a certain amount to the injured person. The final figure is arrived at by assigning a value to several types of losses and adding them up. The types of losses may include:

  • Existing medical bills
  • Estimated future medical expenses
  • Lost wages to date
  • Estimated future lost income
  • Pain and suffering

In wrongful death cases, other types of expenses are considered. Medical bills incurred prior to death may be included, as can funeral expenses. The heirs of the deceased person may be compensated for the loss of financial support they receive. Losses may also include significant but hard-to-quantify hardships imposed on the deceased's dependents (often children) such as the loss of parental guidance and support.

I am the victim of a negligent security case. Who can I contact for help?

The premises liability attorneys at Block O'Toole & Murphy are experienced in negligent security cases, and will fight to make sure you receive full compensation. Your initial consultation is completely free. Contact us online, or call us at 212-736-5300. We serve New York and New Jersey.