Personal Injury Lawyer
Most crime victims have little opportunity to receive compensation for their injuries. Violent criminals usually have few resources and insurance does not cover their intentional acts.
Criminal courts may order a convicted criminal to pay restitution, but restitution orders usually cover medical bills and out-of-pocket losses, not pain and suffering. In any event, most restitution orders go unpaid, particularly if the offender is sent to jail and deprived of the opportunity to earn income.
Duty to Provide Security
In some cases, however, crime victims can seek compensation from third parties. When a business or property owner should have foreseen the risk of a violent crime on its premises and did nothing to prevent it, the failure to provide security may be a negligent act that entitles the crime victim to compensation.
While state laws vary, the general rule is that property owners and renters have a duty to keep their premises safe for people who are invited to use the property. Businesses and other property owners are negligent when they foresee the occurrence of harm yet take no steps to prevent that harm.
Bar Fight Injuries
Businesses usually have no control over the conduct of people the business does not employ, but they can often anticipate that a customer will face a risk by entering their premises. For example, if a tavern owner knows that some of its patrons are rowdy, the owner may have a responsibility to keep a bouncer on duty who can prevent fights before they start by ejecting aggressive patrons.
In one case, a bartender saw one man accusing another of talking to his girlfriend. It was obvious to the bartender that the man making the accusation was angry. Without investigating the facts, he instructed the bouncer to eject both men from the bar. The bouncer escorted them both into the parking lot at the same time.
Predictably, after the bouncer went back inside the bar, the aggressor punched the other man, breaking his nose. The injury victim successfully sued the tavern for failing to protect him from harm, and for making a bad situation worse by forcing him into a parking lot with the aggressor where he had no protection.
High Crime Areas
Businesses may have reason to foresee criminal attacks upon customers when they operate in high crime areas. For example, if mall owners are aware that customers have been sexually assaulted in the mall parking lot during evening hours, the owners should foresee the likelihood that similar attacks will occur in the future. That knowledge may impose a duty to hire security guards to patrol the parking lot.
Crime victims may be able to prove foreseeability by obtaining police records of crime reports that relate to a property owner’s business. Those reports might make it obvious that the property owner knew that violent crimes were occurring on his or her premises. The failure to respond to that knowledge by heightening security may entitle the crime victim compensation based on the property owner’s negligent failure to protect customers from harm.
As a general rule, the easier it would be to provide crime protection, the more likely a court will be to recognize the duty to do so. For example, while a court might not believe a mall had a duty to employ security guards to patrol its parking lot, the same court might agree that the mall had a duty to provide adequate parking lot lighting.
Parking lot assaults are often encouraged by poor lighting. Criminals take advantage of broken or nonexistent lights to attack customers in dark areas of the parking lot where it is difficult for customers to see and avoid an attacker. Failing to maintain lights or to install sufficient lighting to illuminate a parking lot might be regarded as a negligent act when it allows criminals to prey on victims.
Some states provide “safe harbors” for businesses. In those states, installing security cameras (for example) might act as a shield against liability for a business that opts not to patrol its premises with security personnel. Failing to monitor the cameras or to replace cameras that have been destroyed might, however, be a negligent act.
Since state laws vary, crime victims who were attacked on business premises should seek advice from a personal injury lawyer. In many cases, a thorough investigation will uncover evidence that the business was negligent. That may open the door to a claim seeking compensation from the business for the victim’s injuries.