In Florida, business owners, property managers, landlords and security contractors have a legal duty to take necessary steps to secure their premises and prevent foreseeable harm to patrons, residents and lawful guests. If a property owner fails in this duty, he or she can be held legally responsible for the damages.
A poorly-secured premises can leave people vulnerable to robbery, sexual assault or another violent attack leading to serious and physical and emotional injuries. Sometimes, it can lead to death.
Negligent security is a special type of premises liability claim wherein someone alleges their injury by a third-party criminal on another person’s property was at least partially the result of the property owner’s failure to make the site safe when they had a responsibility to do so.
There are several defenses in negligent security cases for which your legal team should be prepared, as was illustrated in an appellate case recently before Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal. In Pride of St. Lucie Lodge 1189 Inc. v. Reed et al, the issue was whether the court erred in awarding $5 million to the plaintiff (daughter of decedent), given that decedent had been involved in a felonious brawl at defendant night club just prior to her death.
Before we delve into the facts, let’s look at F.S. 768.075, which holds that property owners are generally immune from liability for injuries on site if the plaintiff was trespassing at the time of the injury. There are some exceptions (attractive nuisance doctrine when it comes to kids, intentional misconduct, gross negligence, etc.), but for the most part, trespassers have a tough time making a negligent security case.
Section 4 of that statute states that defendants in negligent security cases aren’t liable for negligence that results in the death of injury to “a person who is attempt to commit a felony or who is engaged in the commission of a felony on the property.” So if someone is trying to break into a house or assault someone while they’re injured, they’re not likely to be able to sue for any damages if they’re hurt.
But the Reed case illustrates why you should always talk to an injury lawyer before writing off the possibility of a claim just because a defendant makes a legal argument, refuses to pay or lowballs you.
In this matter, evidence at trial established that on the night of her death, there was a brawl inside a South Florida nightclub between members of decedent’s party and members of the shooter’s party earlier in the evening. Both parties were removed from the club. Then a second fight broke out in the parking lot. During this fight, evidence supported the conclusion that decedent participated and knowingly punched a pregnant female – a felony. The fight ended and the shooter’s party left the property. Decedent then got into her vehicle, parked in the defendant night club’s parking lot and was preparing to leave when the shooter opened fire on her vehicle, fatally striking her in the passenger seat.
The defense made the argument that F.S. 768.075(4) freed them from liability because the decedent was attempting or engaged in commission of a felony on their property – striking a pregnant female – when she was killed.
This argument was rejected by the trial court, which ultimately awarded $5 million in damages, namely because the decedent was not engaged in a felony when she was shot. The appellate court affirmed, citing the “unambiguous present tense language in the statute,” which makes it applicable only to injuries sustained while in the commission or attempted commission of a felony. It’s undisputed that decedent was in her car – no longer engaged in the fight – when she was shot.
One of the bases for plaintiff’s negligent security lawsuit was that the night club security guards removed both groups of brawling people at the same time – without making sure the first group had left the property. This was in fact contrary to established security procedure at the club (i.e., remove one group first, wait a time until that group leaves, and then remove the other).
If you are injured in someone else’s property in a third-party attack, our West Palm Beach negligent security and premises liability attorneys can advise you of the best course of legal action to obtain justice.
Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
Pride of St. Lucie Lodge 1189 Inc. v. Reed et al, Nov. 4, 2020, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
How Crime Statistics Factor in West Palm Beach Sexual Assault Lawsuits, July 25, 2020, West Palm Beach Negligent Security Lawyer Blog