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New York Negligent Security Lawyers

building door left open, negligent security lawsuit

Although “negligent security” might be a fairly self-explanatory concept – a person is sued for providing inadequate security – in practice, negligent security cases are often complex and nuanced. They can involve tangled relationships among defendants, and several legal criteria need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. No two cases unfurl in exactly the same way.

The legal outlines of negligent security cases are given below. If you have been injured because of negligent security and would like to discuss the specifics of your case, please call us at 212-736-5300 or contact us online. Our attorneys are well-versed in laws pertaining to negligent security and have an established record of success in personal injury cases.

Select negligent security results include:

  • $1,500,000 settlement for a 47-year-old victim who was stabbed by an unknown assailant in a Brooklyn hospital.
  • $1,400,000 settlement for a mentally ill hospital patient who was sexually assaulted by another patient in Plainview, New York.

Legal Aspects of Negligent Security Cases

Negligent security cases fall under the category of premises liability and the legal approach taken is similar to that for slip and fall accidents, store accidents, and defective stairs cases. You can think of negligent security cases as a road with a series of gates on it. The plaintiff starts at one end of the road, and in order to open each gate, they must prove that a condition exists. If the plaintiff fails to prove that each condition exists, their lawsuit is unlikely to continue.

1) Injury
The purpose of a negligent security suit is to recover losses incurred by the plaintiff. If the plaintiff was the victim of a criminal attack, but escaped unharmed, there are no losses to be recovered and thus, no case. (Emotional distress alone is not considered sufficient basis for a premises liability case.)

2) Duty Toward the Plaintiff
Next, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed them a duty of care. Property owners are considered to have a duty towards anyone who has explicit or implicit permission to be on their property (such as guests invited for a holiday celebration or customers at a retail store). This duty may also extend to trespassers (provided the property owner is aware of, or could reasonably predict, the trespasser’s presence).

A third party (such as a property management company or commercial tenant) may have a duty of care toward the injured person as well. However, if the defendant is not the property owner, additional work will need to be done to prove that the defendant was in some way responsible for ensuring the plaintiff’s wellbeing.

3) Foreseeability
After establishing the defendant owed a duty toward the plaintiff, the next step is to show that a crime was foreseeable. This is most often established by showing that there is a history of similar crimes on the property or in the immediate vicinity.

States vary in the type of crime that may be used to demonstrate foreseeability. Some states require the plaintiff to show that the same type of crime has been committed in that area. In these states, a recent string of muggings would not necessarily indicate that a sexual assault was foreseeable. New York State does not require the plaintiff to show that there is a history of the same type of crime. However, previous crimes do need to be substantially similar to the case at hand.

For example, if there have been several recent brawls at a bar, a lawyer might convincingly argue that a sexual assault was foreseeable. However, if there have been a series of car jackings in the bar’s parking lot, but no violent crime inside, it may be difficult to argue that a sexual assault was foreseeable.

There may be some limited circumstances in which foreseeability can be shown in other ways, although the burden of proof may be higher.

For example, say a patient at a psychiatric hospital has a history of violent attacks against women wearing red shirts. He has been committed to the hospital several times and hospital staff members are well aware of this predilection. Yet he is left alone in a room with a woman wearing a red shirt. He attacks her, and she is injured. In this case, the attack might be considered foreseeable.

Evidence used to demonstrate foreseeability might include:

  • News reports of prior, similar crimes in the same location.
  • Police records that show a history of dispatches to the property.
  • Testimony from the perpetrator saying he chose the location based on some feature of the property (dim lighting, broken fences, secluded area, etc.).
  • Testimony of the responding police officer saying the property is known as a dangerous one.

4) Negligence
Once the plaintiff has established that the defendant had a duty of care, and that a crime was foreseeable, the plaintiff will then need to show that the defendant was negligent in addressing security concerns.

Proving negligence can be tricky, as property owners are only expected to take reasonable precautions to prevent a crime. What counts as “reasonable” is open to interpretation. Whether the security measures in place are considered adequate must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

The type of establishment matters, as does the particular criminal history of a place and probability of danger. If the owners of a popular and lively nightclub do not employ a security guard and a disagreement between two patrons escalates into violence, the owners may be found negligent. But if a violent fight breaks out between parents at a well-regarded daycare center, it is unlikely the proprietors will be found negligent for failing to hire a security guard. Context matters.

Potential signs of inadequate security include:

  • Broken locks
  • Damaged doors, fences, gates, etc. that allow an assailant to enter a property
  • Poor lighting
  • Lack of security cameras or security alarms
  • Lack of security guards
  • Inadequate security procedures or poor training on security practices

Negligence may also be established if prior security measures were discontinued. For example, say a hotel used to place security cameras in public areas and employed a guard to monitor the footage. Later, the hotel disconnected the cameras and fired the security guard to save money. Shortly thereafter, a domestic assault occurs in the lobby and a woman was seriously injured. Although the front desk clerk sees the incident, the police are only alerted when a fellow guest comes into the lobby and calls 911. In this case, the hotel owners could be liable for inadequate security.

Comparative Negligence
In New York State, liability is not an either/or determination. Instead, New York State subscribes to the comparative negligence rule, meaning that liability may be split between the plaintiff and defendant and a percentage of blame may be assigned to each party. Even if the plaintiff is found to be partly at fault, they may still recover partial damages.

Unlike some states, New York allows plaintiffs to recover a portion of the damages even if they are found to be more than 50% liable for the accident.

How might this work in practice? Consider the following examples:

  • Plaintiff is 10% liable/Defendant is 90% liable: Plaintiff receives 90% of the damages.
  • Plaintiff is 50% liable/Defendant is 50% liable: Plaintiff receives 50% of the damages.
  • Plaintiff is 90% liable/Defendant is 10% liable: Plaintiff receives 10% of the damages.

4) Proximate Cause
Finally, the plaintiff must show that the property owner’s negligence was a proximate (or direct) cause of their injuries. In other words, did the defendant’s negligence directly lead to the plaintiff’s injuries?

In New York State, the criteria for proving proximate cause are not well-defined and each case must be evaluated on its own merits. However, there are some clear-cut cases.

For example, say a hospital left a side door unlocked at all hours and did not monitor entrants. An unauthorized woman snuck in one night and smothered an unconscious patient. In this case, the hospital’s inadequate security – unlocked and unsecured entrance – allowed the woman to sneak in and harm a patient.

However, say the woman entered through the main entrance during the day and checked in as a visitor before proceeding to smother the patient. The hospital was still negligent for leaving the side door unsecured, but that negligence was not part of the chain of events that caused the person’s death.

Contact a Negligent Security Lawyer Today

If you have been injured due to negligent security, you don’t have to navigate the legal system alone. The attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy are here to help. Contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation, or call us at 212-736-5300. We serve the NYC boroughs of Queens, Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and all New York State.

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