Liability for criminal actions almost exclusively rests with the criminal.
However, in civil cases, that’s not always entirely true. There are some cases when third parties can be held responsible for the criminal actions of someone else. Mostly, we see this in premises liability cases, where an entity had a duty to protect the victim and failed in that duty, precipitating the criminal attack.
These claims are referred to as “negligent security.”
Most states recognize this kind of liability, although to varying degrees. One such case was recently before the Mississippi Supreme Court. In Bennett v. Highland Park Apartments, LLC, plaintiff alleged premises liability against a landlord after she and her children suffered personal injuries during a home invasion robbery at the apartment complex where they lived.
This case is relevant to those with similar claims here in Florida because it touches on the extent to which expert witness testimony is necessary in cases involving inadequate security measures. In these cases, one must not only prove the security measures were inadequate, but also that this lack of action proximately caused plaintiff’s injuries.
According to court records, plaintiff and her three children were the victims of a home invasion robbery. The assailants allegedly entered through the front entrance of the complex through the front gate, which was frequently broken or malfunctioning. No guard was situated at the front of the complex to take names or license plate numbers of those entering.
In the course of the home invasion robbery, plaintiff and her three minor children sustained personal injuries.
When she sued the apartment complex and the apartment complex manager for premises liability and inadequate security, her legal team presented expert witness testimony to prove her point.
That expert witness, who specializes in security measures, testified first on the lack of security measures. This particular complex was known to have a history of reported violent crimes. It was also advertised as a gated community in which access was tightly controlled.
However, the gate was consistently broken or left open. In this situation, the expert testified, an armed security guard situated at the front entrance, who would document the identity of persons and vehicles entering the facility, would be the professional norm. Although not every complex would have a duty to provide those security measures, one like this with a history of violent crimes would.
Expert witness went on to explain how those failures caused the injuries. He explained presence of an armed guard at the front gate would deter criminals from entering the site. He explained a guard taking down information of non-residents would deter criminals from entering because they would know they could be quickly identified by law enforcement. Witness supported his statements by including his experience installing similar protective measures at other locations and noting successful reductions of crime at those locations.
Trial court ruled this testimony was based on conjecture and granted summary judgment to defense.
However, appellate court reversed and state supreme court affirmed that reversal, finding the claim should be allowed to proceed to trial.
There were genuine issues of material fact regarding adequacy of security measures and the way in which those actions proximately caused injuries of plaintiff and her children.
If you have been injured in Boca Raton, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Bennett v. Highland Park Apartments, LLC, May 7, 2015, Mississippi Supreme Court
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