When you stop into a car wash to clean up your vehicle, you may not be thinking about the possibility of getting attacked by a criminal. However, these things happen. Car washes are often unattended, and they often have sub-optimal security measures in place to protect guests.
After a criminal attack on a business property, it’s obvious that the criminal should be punished for his or her actions. However, there may be more than meets the eye in these types of incidents. For example, the business may also be to blame for ignoring crimes in the past and for failing to implement reasonable security measures to protect guests.
Cases based on a property owner’s failure to implement reasonable security measures are called “negligent security” cases, and these are a type of premises liability claim. Whether or not you have a viable negligent security claim will depend on a number of factors, and that’s what this article is all about.
What is Negligent Security?
A business owner in states like Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina has a duty to take precautions that are reasonably necessary to protect customers and invitees. An “invitee” is just a legal term that labels a person’s status while on the property. So, for example, a trespasser is someone who doesn’t have a right to be on the property. We’re all familiar with the term “trespasser.”
An “invitee” is someone who comes onto the property for the benefit of the property owner. For example, a person that comes onto the property of a car wash to spend money to wash their car or have their car washed is an “invitee.” That’s a person who has the right to be on the property, so long as they’re on the property during a time when the business is open and allowing customers on the property.
In the context of a negligent security case, whether a security measure is “reasonable” will be based on the foreseeability of crime. In other words, a property in a high crime area or a property where crimes have occurred in the past may require more security measures than a similar property with no crime in the area and no history of crime on the property.
What Makes a Strong Negligent Security Case?
When we’re talking about a “strong” case, we’re talking about a case where the argument for holding the business owner liable is a stronger argument. This involves an analysis of multiple factors, including the security measures in place at the time of the attack, the history of violence on the property, and the overall crime in the area immediately around the car wash.
A stronger case would be a case where a person got hurt at a car wash that had few, if any, security measures in place to protect guests and patrons and where the property was in a high crime area and had similar incidents of violence in the past. Clearly, in a case involving a violent incident at a property with lots of security measures, like functioning gates, security cameras, and good lighting, it would be more difficult to claim that the property owner than if the violent incident occurred at a property with none of these security measures. In the same way, a one-off violent incident on a property with little or no crime in the area and no history of violence on the property will be different than a case where the property has a long history of violence.
Ultimately, each case is unique, and whether a case is a “strong” case or a “good” case will depend on the facts of the case. Some of the more critical factors will involve the issue of “foreseeability.” In other words, we ask: How foreseeable was it that violent crime would occur on the property? The more foreseeable the violent crime, the more onus on the property owner to implement security measures to protect guests.
What Are the Elements a Claimant Needs to Prove in a Negligent Security Case?
Whenever we’re talking about negligence, the case will involve the 4 main elements of negligence: duty, breach, causation, and damages. Negligent security cases will also involve an analysis of the foreseeability of violent crime occurring on the property.
Property owners and owners of car washes have a duty to take reasonable measures to protect guests and patrons. In the context of negligent security, a property owner has a duty to implement reasonable security measures to protect guests. As we talked about above, what is “reasonable” may depend on the foreseeability of violent crime occurring on the property.
Some reasonable security measures might include:
- Making sure the car wash is well lit and free of dark areas that might invite a violent attack;
- Putting in a gate that allows guests in and out of the property and discourages criminals from entering the property;
- Installing security cameras that record footage of what’s happening on the premises; and
- Having the proper staff and security personnel on the property.
A claimant can prove the element of breach if the claimant can show that the property owner failed to implement reasonable security measures. Taking an example from above, say the property owner failed to install security cameras after several criminal attacks on the property. This could be considered a breach of the duty to protect guests from foreseeable violent crime.
Proving causation involves establishing a link between the lack of security measures and the violent criminal attack. For example, in a case where a person got shot at a car wash that had a broken security gate, the argument might involve showing that the crime would not have occurred if there had been a functioning security gate on the property.
The last element is damages, and this is often an element that doesn’t take much work to establish. For example, if you got shot on the premises of a car wash, the damages would be the loss you’ve suffered as a result of getting shot, like your medical bill costs and the pain and suffering you’ve endured.
As we’ve discussed in this article, foreseeability is often a big part of negligent security cases. Think of it this way: It’s hard to blame a property owner for a violent criminal attack if there was no reason for the property owner to know that the violent crime might occur. On the other hand, when a property has a long list of 911 calls and where there has been a lot of violent crime in the area, it’s difficult for a property owner to argue that they had no reason to anticipate violent crime would occur on the property.
Foreseeability can be established in several ways, and this is where evidence can play a major role in a case. For example, there may be a long list of 911 calls to the property regarding trespassers and violent crime. In the same way, there may be crime data that shows there has been many violent crimes in the area around the car wash. Additionally, there may be news articles out there regarding other shootings, stabbings, or assaults on the property, and these can be very useful in establishing that violent crime on the property was foreseeable.
At the end of the day, there’s an element of fairness when we’re talking about foreseeability. The law isn’t designed to punish people for things they couldn’t control. However, on the other hand, the law doesn’t want to reward business owners for ignoring crime on the property and putting the safety of guests at risk to save a little money on security.
What is An Example of a Car Wash Negligent Security Case?
Unfortunately, violent incidents at car washes are not at all uncommon. These things happen, and they can lead to noteworthy negligent security cases.
For example, relatives of 36-year-old Bobby Hopkins brought a lawsuit against Swamp Car Wash in Gainesville, Florida after Mr. Hopkins was shot and killed on the property. The incident occurred in May of 2021, and the shooter was convicted of second-degree murder. In addition to the criminal conviction, the shooting resulted in a jury verdict against the car wash for $7.5 million, $3.75 million to each of Mr. Hopkins’ surviving children.
Security footage of the incident showed the victim and the shooter getting into an altercation moments before the shooting occurred. The jury found that the victim shared some of the blame and placed 25% of the responsibility on the victim and 75% on the shooter. Nonetheless, the jury granted a significant amount of money to the victim’s children as a result of the wrongful death lawsuit.
How Long Do You Have to File a Negligent Security Lawsuit?
The deadline for filing a lawsuit is called the statute of limitations, and this deadline can vary from state to state. For Florida, you’re generally looking at two (2) years from the date of the injury, or two (2) years from the date of death in a wrongful death case. Georgia has a similar statute of limitations. In South Carolina, however, a claimant generally has three (3) years from the date of injury or the date of death.