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Can a property owner be liable for inadequate security?

Many people seem to have a basic understanding of the fact that a property owner can be held liable for damages or injuries suffered by someone else if an accident occurs on the owner's property. However, many people do not understand the full potential extent of premises liability. In reality, premises liability refers to much more than simple slip-and-fall accidents or other accidents that occur due to dangerous property conditions or poor maintenance of the property.

When a crime occurs on a property owner's premises and someone is injured or harmed by the crime, the property owner can potentially be held liable for the damages and harm caused by the crime if there was negligent or inadequate security. However, there are many different elements that must be proven before a property owner can face legal liability due to inadequate security.

At the root of premises liability claims is foreseeability. A property owner does not have a legal duty to protect against all types of harm; a duty only exists to make efforts to protect against foreseeable harm and this includes reasonably foreseeable crimes. In general, this duty applies to all types of property owners that have business invitees, or clients, which generally include malls, apartments, hotels, restaurants and other similar premises.

In determining whether a property owner will be held liable for damages or harm resulting from a crime, crime data is relevant in that it helps property owners determine a realistic risk of crime occurring on the premises. The perpetrator of the crime is also relevant. Although it is not a sufficient defense to claim that a third party criminal committed the act which caused the harm, it will matter whether the criminal act was committed by a customer, a trespasser, an invitee, a resident, a loiterer, etc. Related to both of these things is the issue of security on the property. If a property owner knew of significant risks of criminal activity and adequate security measures could have significantly reduced that risk, failure to provide such security could be powerful evidence of liability.

Source: Federation of Defense & Corporate Counsel, "Negligent Security: When Is Crime Your Problem?" Richards H. Ford, accessed on May 17, 2015

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