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For most people, the words “security” translate into safety and a bit more peace of mind. A security guard at a condo complex means someone capable of responding to emergencies. A security camera network in common areas means people know that there’s an ever-present “eye witness” to record actions like theft, or assault.
But sometimes, even there is a claim that security is present at a property, it doesn’t work as intended, or, in the case or people, don’t do the job expected. When that happens, the people injured as a result of negligent security can do something about it.
A Legal Obligation
Premises liability is a legal concept of a property owner taking both legal and financial responsibility for any harm that occurs on a property as a result of negligence. This means that if there is some aspect of the property that the property owner or manager realizes could potentially cause harm, but then elects to do nothing about it, if harm should arise as a result, premises liability has occurred. The property owner must now answer for the harm that was caused by choosing to ignore a potentially harmful aspect of the property.
In the case of security, this has many implications. The primary function of security is safety. This comes in many forms, from security cameras designed to deter crime, or alert human security personnel to suspicious activity, or even provide valuable evidence for the investigation.
In the case of security guards, these are points of contact for people to get help, or, in some cases, rely on for protection. Security guards may also be expected to investigate, intervene, and even intercept or neutralize criminal activity.
And then there are very basic security measures, such as locks. Guests who check into a hotel, for example, expect privacy while they are there. A locked door should mean that no one gains entry without permission. Locks can also protect valuables, such as the lock on a room safe designed to stow away important documents like passports, or even business contracts.
When Security Fails
Negligent security can occur in many ways. Sometimes ignoring mechanical failure can have drastic consequences. A hotel realizing that the locks on a door don’t work, but choosing not to repair that lock, or inform the guest about the broken lock is a very clear example of negligence. If that same guest experiences theft—or worse yet, assault—as a result of someone taking advantage of that broken lock, this is completely the responsibility of the management of that hotel.
In other cases, it may be down to human error. A security camera system may be working as intended, and there may be security guards in place, managing a security room console. However, if the security guard is not taking the job seriously, and consulting social media on the phone, for example, while in the room, as a camera shows a resident or guest being robbed, that’s also a clear violation of negligent security. If the assailant drags the victim off so the security guard finally looks up, sees nothing, and goes back to the phone with no investigation or police intervention, this is a catastrophic failure of security.
What People Can Do
Fortunately, when security doesn’t work as intended as a result of negligence, this is far from the end of the story. The property manager or owner can be made to answer for this breach of trust, but the breach must be provable in court. Depending on how serious the negligence is, there may even be criminal charges and an elevation to culpable negligence.
A security guard, for example, that is playing a loaded firearm, who pretends to shoot at a passing resident and then accidentally pulls the trigger, shooting and injuring that resident, could be charged with culpable negligence, in addition to the management of the property itself being sued for premises liability. There is no excuse, especially in a quiet situation with no criminal activity, for a security guard to shoot others who just happened to be passing by, especially if the security guard had already admitted them onto the property as a resident or guest.
Anyone that has been the victim of negligent security should talk to attorneys specializing in personal injury, specifically premises liability. It is important to act quickly and decisively if you know that an injury was both easily preventable and the fault of the security infrastructure in place at a property.
An experienced premises liability attorney will be able to quickly determine important aspects of an incident to see whether this is a case that should be pursued in court and, if sufficiently serious, set the wheels in motion for the investigation that will gather the evidence required to win in court. Always make sure to talk to experienced lawyers that are familiar with this very specialized form of law.