In certain cases civil and criminal issues collide. Premises liability is one such case.
Premises liability seeks to hold property owners responsible for injuries that occur on their premises. Premises liability is more than slip and falls. Premises liability can attach any time an injury is sustained on another’s property if the property owner was negligent.
When crimes occur in public places, like the recent Colorado movie theatre shooting, there will be a criminal case against the perpetrator, but there can also be civil suits against the property owner in tort.
Foreseeability is the test in premises liability cases. The issue in premises liability cases where crime has occurred is whether the property owner could foresee criminal conduct could reasonably occur on its premises.
If there has been prior crime on the property, it is likely a court would agree that the owner could foresee crime occurring again. If the owner did not take reasonable steps to protect against the reoccurrence, he or she will likely be liable for any resulting consequences of the crime to any third parties.
However, the prior crime had to be substantially similar enough to the crime that occurred in the current premises liability case in order to put the owner on notice. The court will also consider the frequency of calls to security services or law enforcement. If the establishment had to frequently make calls to security or the police, perhaps the business needed security on-site, or additional security on-site.
An injured plaintiff in a premises liability case can also establish evidence to show insufficient lighting which could make it easier to commit a crime, or the need for security cameras to surveillance the area. Some states also have laws that certain establishments, such as convenience stores, have a drop safe or cash management device, a notice that the cash register only contains $50, unobstructed window signage, no window tinting, and a silent alarm.