Pennsylvania negligent security: breaching the duty of reasonable safety

Owners or occupiers of business premises owe a duty of care to those lawfully present.

When we go shopping, out to eat, to entertainment establishments and elsewhere in the community, we expect that the property owner or business in control of the premises will take reasonable steps to keep us safe. Unfortunately, sometimes the negligent or reckless action or inaction of a property owner or business renter to keep people safe from foreseeable criminal activity causes injury or death from assault or other criminal act of a third party.

Premises liability

This kind of case is referred to as negligent security, a kind of premises liability claim. Premises liability broadly provides the basis of a lawsuit when a person is injured because of a dangerous condition on the property of another, often in a business context. The classic premises liability example is when a customer slips on a grape negligently left on a grocery store, falling and sustaining injuries.

Reasonable security

In negligent security claims, the issue is usually whether the property owner provided sufficiently reasonable security considering the chance of crime. What reasonable security is depends on the specific circumstances. For example:

  • Has anyone been harmed on the premises before, including in similar incidents? Was action taken to prevent repetition?
  • What is the neighborhood crime rate?
  • What kinds of crimes have happened in the area?
  • Was a security device in disrepair?
  • Has the property owner investigated the likelihood of crime?
  • Was the business adequately staffed?
  • Does the nature of the business raise the risk of third-party harm?

Steps a property owner can take to reasonably prevent crime against customers may include, depending on the circumstances:

  • Warning signs
  • Safety lighting, including floodlights
  • Motion sensor-controlled lights or alarms
  • Security guards
  • Alarms
  • Locks
  • Staff training to respond to suspicious people and circumstances appropriately, such as by calling emergency personnel or asking a suspicious person to leave
  • Fencing
  • Screening of those who enter the property
  • Security cameras or surveillance

Third-party crime

Negligent or insufficient security can result in:

  • Physical violence
  • Sexual assault
  • Theft or robbery
  • Negligent or intentional homicide
  • And more

In Pennsylvania, property owner or possessor liability for third-party harm on business premises requires that the owner or possessor failed to either consider the existence of or likelihood of third-party crime, or to adequately warn customers of potential harm. Damages to a successful plaintiff could include those for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Comparative negligence

In Pennsylvania, if the victim was also negligent in some way that contributed to the harm, he or she may still recover in a negligent security case so long as the victim's negligence was not more than 50 percent of the fault that caused the injury. However, the damage award may be reduced by the percentage of harm attributed to the victim.

Seek legal counsel

This is a broad introduction to a complex area of Pennsylvania law. Special rules may apply in similar situations involving residential landlords, places of employment, mass transit, taverns, schools, government premises and so on.

Anyone who has been injured or whose loved one has died because of negligent security should speak with an attorney, who can answer questions and investigate the circumstances on behalf of the victim.

The lawyers at Young Ricchiuti Caldwell & Heller, LLC, represent clients in the Philadelphia metro area and throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania in premises liability claims, including those for negligent security, slip- or trip-and-fall injuries, insufficient lighting, dangerous conditions like broken stairs or wet floors, and poorly maintained elevators or escalators.