As a personal injury, some of the saddest cases I encounter are not ones where a client is injured as the result of someone's negligence in causing a collision, but where someone is injured as the result of a violent crime that was allowed to occur because of a business' negligence. In Florida, cases where one is bringing a lawsuit against a business after they've been assault by a third party are often referred to as “negligent security” cases.
The theory behind these cases is that the defendant that controls a particular premise has a duty to protect a patron from suffering a criminal attack if that attack is reasonably foreseeable. When a business establishment knows that crimes are likely to occur and fails to have any security measures in place to protect patrons, the law will hold that business responsible if patrons are injured as the result of a violent crime. Whether we can establish that the criminal attack suffered by the plaintiff was “reasonably foreseeable” is the crux of holding the business responsible for the client's injuries in these types of cases.
What Makes a criminal attack “reasonably foreseeable”?
To show the crime was foreseeable, we need to be able to establish that the business knew or should have known that there was a likelihood that the crime would occur. This is called establishing “constructive knowledge.” In negligent security cases, evidence of past similar crimes becomes critical. Also of significance is the time in between those past crimes and the one that has caused the plaintiff harm, as well as the geographic proximity of those past crimes to the new one.
How similar do the crimes have to be?
A debate among the courts in Florida has ensured as to exactly how similar prior crimes in and around the premise have to be to the crime at issue in order to establish foreseeability. For instance, in the past courts have stated that prior instances of theft and vandalism do not make it foreseeable that a violent crime, such as a battery, would occur. This very narrow definition of “similar crimes” made it difficult for injured plaintiffs to meet their burdens in court of showing the business had constructive notice. Although many courts in Florida still follow this narrow definition, the Second District Court of Appeals decision in Bellevue v. Frenchy's South Beach Café, Inc., moved away from this trend. 136 So. 3d 640 (Fla 2d DCA 2013). The Bellevue court, and others that follow, allow dissimilar crimes in the area to be sufficient to provide constructive notice to the business that a crime is likely to occur.
Thus, a plaintiff could use prior thefts and property crimes to establish that an assault is reasonably foreseeable. Broadly defining “similar” in this context correctly protects patrons in Florida. If a business knows that crimes—no matter what characterization—are occurring in and around their business, then they should be held accountable if a patron is injured in a violent attack because the business failed to have any security to protect him. The court's decision in Bellevue comports with the public policy of promoting business owners to have measures in place to protect patrons when they know that there is a likelihood of crimes being perpetrated in and around their business. Investigating prior crimes and understanding this area of the law is critical to prevail. At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we have the resources to thoroughly investigate a claim for negligent security to maximize recovery. For more information call 727-451-6900.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 33765 727-451-6900