Two people were shot in the Paddock Shopping Mall in Ocala, Florida on the afternoon of Saturday, December 23, 2023. One victim was a man, and he died as a result of his injuries. The other victim was a woman, and she was taken to the hospital after the shooting. The shooter had apparently fled the scene by the time the police arrived.
It’s thought that the deceased male victim was targeted. Although the shooter’s has not been confirmed, an arrest warrant was issued for Albert Shell Jr.
Can You Bring a Negligent Security Case After a Shooting at a Shopping Mall?
In the wake of a shooting at a shopping mall, victims and their families may wonder about their legal remedies. Of course, the criminal side of the law exists to punish the criminal—the shooter. However, there may also be other legal avenues in the civil legal system that would allow families to recover money for their losses if those losses occurred due to negligence.
One such avenue is a negligent security case, which is a type of premises liability claim. An individual who is shot or injured—or the family of a person who is killed—can bring a lawsuit for negligent security if the injuries resulted from a property owner’s failure to provide adequate security measures.
Negligent security claims hinge on the principle that property owners, including shopping malls, have a duty to provide reasonable protection to their patrons against foreseeable crimes and to warm about or remedy any hazardous conditions on the property.
Common Examples of Negligent Security or Inadequate Security Measures
Various forms of inadequate security can constitute negligent security, including:
- Insufficient lighting in parking lots or common areas.
- Lack of security personnel or security patrols in areas where violent crime is likely to occur.
- Failure to install or properly maintain surveillance cameras.
- Inadequate control over access points, such as broken locks or lack of entry checkpoints.
- Failure to respond to known security threats or previous incidents of violence.
When Are Violent Crimes Foreseeable?
The issue of foreseeability is often a big one in negligent security cases because the defense will often argue that the violent incident simply wasn’t foreseeable. That’s when we have to come up with viable arguments that the violent incident was foreseeable.
Ultimately, courts will consider whether a reasonable person in the property owner's position would have anticipated the violent criminal act, based on prior incidents or the nature of the environment. If a similar act has occurred on the premises, or the area is known for such incidents, it may be considered foreseeable.
This is where a thorough investigation can make or break a case. Police calls or 911 calls to the property can show a pattern of crime on the property. Similarly, crime data from neighboring areas can show that the mall was in a “high crime” location. We can use this kind of evidence to show that the property owner knew or should have known about the potential for violent crime at the mall.
Elements of a Negligent Security Case
Proving a negligent security case requires establishing the four elements of negligence:
- Duty: The claimant must show that the property owner owed a duty of care to the victims. In the context of a shopping mall, this duty includes the provision of reasonable security measures to protect patrons and guests on the property.
- Breach: The claimant must demonstrate that the property owner breached its duty by failing to implement or maintain adequate security measures.
- Causation: The claimant needs to be able to show a direct link between the breach of duty and the harm suffered. This means showing that the inadequate security was a substantial factor in bringing about the injury.
- Damages: The victim must have suffered damages as a result of the incident, which can include medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
The burden of proof is on the claimant or the plaintiff. In other words, the claimant must establish each element of negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, which just means “more likely than not.” To put this numerically, it just means that the claimant needs to present enough evidence to get the factfinder to 50.1%. This is a much lower burden than the burden of proof in criminal cases, which is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
To prove these elements, a claimant can gather evidence such as police reports, witness statements, expert testimony on security standards, and medical records. The testimony of security experts can be particularly pivotal in establishing what security measures are reasonable, based on the evidence regarding prior crimes on and around the property, and how the lack the security measures contributed to the incident.In summary, a negligent security case can be pursued if it is demonstrated that a property owner's failure to provide adequate security measures allowed for a foreseeable criminal act to occur, resulting in harm to the victim.