Have you ever visited a business, apartment complex, gas station, or parking garage, and you just knew that you were in danger? You got the sense that something was off, and it made the hair on your neck stand up. Well, after everything we’ve seen at this law firm, I can assure you that, at least sometimes, you need to listen to your intuition and get out of there.
Every year, people get attacked at gas stations, apartment complexes, hotels, and other businesses because the businesses attract crime to the property by not implementing proper security measures. They fail to install cameras or gates, or they fail to hire security guards or security personnel, and someone gets hurt or killed as a result. Well, in South Carolina, business owners and property owners may be held liable for a person’s injuries if they fail to implement reasonable security measures in the face of foreseeable crime under a legal theory called “negligent security.”
Many people are unaware of their right to pursue legal action against a property owner for negligence because the focus in these types of cases is usually on the criminal’s actions. However, when a property owner attracts crime to property or allows crime on the property and doesn’t take any steps to reduce or prevent crime, and someone gets hurt as a result, that could be considered negligence. Just as South Carolina law provides a remedy for folks injured by drunk drivers, the law lets crime victims pursue compensation when they’re injured because of a negligent property owner’s actions or inactions.
A South Carolina negligent security attorney at our office can help you explore your legal options if you’ve been attacked on the property of a business. All you have to do is give us a call or submit a form on our website, and we’ll be happy to get you scheduled for a free consultation. We can talk you through your legal options and guide you through the process of pursuing compensation for what you’ve been through.
Understanding Negligent Security Claims in South Carolina
A viable negligent security case in South Carolina will involve a situation where a person gets hurt as a result a violent crime on a business property because of inadequate security on the property. Essentially, the property owner or the entity responsible for managing the property did not take reasonable steps to prevent violent crime on the property, and someone got hurt as a result. Generally speaking, the negligent actions or inactions in these claim center around the property owner’s failure to implement reasonable security measures at a location or area where violent crime was foreseeable.
What Are the Types of Properties That Are Commonly Involved in South Carolina Negligent Security Cases?
Really any property that could be considered a “commercial property” or “business property” could be involved in a South Carolina negligent security case. However, some properties seem to be more commonly the subject of these types of claims. Namely, negligent security cases will often involve one of the following:
- Hotels and motels
- Apartment complexes
- Shopping malls and shopping centers
- Parking garages
- Parking lots
- Bars, restaurants, and nightclubs
- Gas stations and convenience stores
It’s not just property owners that can be responsible for negligent security claims. People leasing the property or managing the property, or even the security company in charge of patrolling the property, may be liable for negligence. The key is that an entity, person, or agent did something or didn’t do something that ultimately led to a person getting attacked on the property.
What Types of Violent Attacks Could be the Basis of a Negligent Security Claim in South Carolina?
When we’re talking about negligent security cases, the claim is usually based on some serious violent crime. Some of the common types of crimes that are involved in a negligent security case are:
- Rape or sexual assaults
- Fires on property
Any type of violent attack could serve as the basis of a negligent security claim in South Carolina, so long as the attack can be linked to the property owner’s negligent failure to implement proper and reasonable security measures.
Violent Crime Data in South Carolina
According to data from the South Carolina law enforcement division, murder and aggravated assault in SC is on the rise in recent years. Below is some relevant crime data from 2017 to 2021.
- 2017: 375
- 2018: 409
- 2019: 454
- 2020: 561
- 2021: 566
According to SLED, the murder rate in SC increased 0.89% from 2020 to 2021, putting the murder rate in 2021 at its highest since 1991. The counties with the highest murder rates are Barnwell, Allendale, Hampton, Orangeburg, and Colleton, on the southwest side of the State. Other dangerous areas center around the northeast side of the State, in Marlboro, Lee, Florencce, Dillon, and Marion counties. The lowest murder rates are in the north part of the state, in counties like Pickens, Anderson, Laurens, and Union.
- 2017: 18,883
- 2018: 18,953
- 2019: 20,050
- 2020: 22,057
- 2021: 21,580
In 2021, the rate of aggravated assault decreased by 2.2% from 2020 to 2021, which put an end to a 6-year consecutive up-trend. The slowing rate is comforting, but the bigger picture tells a more troubling story.
The South Carolina counties with the highest rates of aggravated assault are Orangeburg and Dillon. However, the counties around Florence and Orangeburg also have high numbers, as does Richland and the City of Columbia.
- 2017: 3,966
- 2018: 3,672
- 2019: 3,373
- 2020: 3,298
- 2021: 2,639
Robbery decreased in South Carolina over 19% from 2020 to 2021, dropping off significantly from prior years. The highest robbery rates are reported in Charleston, Orangeburg, Bamberg, Darlington, and Florence Counties. McCormick, Edgefield, Newberry, Fairfield, and Kershaw have some of the lowest rates of robbery in South Carolina.
- 2017: 2,929
- 2018: 3,005
- 2019: 2,857
- 2020: 2,504
- 2021: 2,515
Sexual battery decreased slightly from 2020 to 2021, and the overall trend appears to be down in recent years. However, when viewing sexual battery as a whole from 1992 to 2021 and given the data SLED has collected, it appears to be holding steady over the past 30 years, consistently ranging from about 2,200 to 3,000 instances per year.
The counties with the highest rates of sexual battery are Greenwood, Saluda, Lancaster, bamberg, Clarendon, Florence, Marlboro, and Horry. Colleton and Edgefield have some of the lower rates of sexual battery in the State.
How Do You Successfully Prove a Negligent Security Case in South Carolina?
To successfully prove a negligent security case in South Carolina, you need to be able to establish the 4 key elements of negligence, as well as some additional components of a viable claim. The elements of negligence include the following:
Let’s talk more about the elements of negligence. Then, we will talk about other aspects of a viable negligent security case.
First, you need to be able to demonstrate that the property owner or manager owed you a duty of care. This can be established through various laws and regulations, and it can also be established by the company’s own policies and procedures.
The element of duty will ultimately boil down to the relationship between you and the property owner. For example, a business owner may not owe the same duty of care to a trespasser as it does to a person who visits the business to buy something, also known as an “invitee.” Generally, business owners owe a higher duty to a patron than to someone who is on the property without permission.
Breach of Duty
The next element is “breach” or “breach of duty.” Here, we ask whether the property owner did something that was unreasonable or failed to take reasonable actions that increased the likelihood of a violent attack on the property. For example, a property owner that failed to implement security cameras or didn’t maintain security cameras in good working condition may be found to have breached its duty to the victim of a crime. In other words, the property owner should have had security cameras but didn’t, for whatever reason.
The third element you need to be able to prove in a South Carolina negligent security case is causation. Essentially, this means that you must be able to link the property owner’s breach of duty directly to the violent attack that caused your harm. This means showing that the injury wouldn’t have occurred if the property had proper security measures in place. Thus, it's not enough to highlight the absence of security; you must also prove that the absence of security allowed the criminal act to take place.
In any personal injury claim, including negligent security claims, you need to be able to show that you’ve suffered damages as a result of the incident at issue. There are two broad categories of damages: economic damages and noneconomic damages.
Economic damages are the quantifiable and tangible damages you’ve suffered. Usually, we’re talking about medical bills and lost wages. These are the types of damages that have an invoice or a receipt, and they’re easy to add up.
Noneconomic damages are the damages that aren’t as easily quantified. These are damages for things like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium. Calculating noneconomic damages often involves digging into your specific circumstances and listing all the different ways your injuries have affected your life, as well as the life of your spouse.
Another aspect of negligent security cases in South Carolina is foreseeability. Namely, we need to be able to show that violent crime on the property was foreseeable. For example, if multiple other instances of violent crime occurred on the same property where you were attacked, then you have a stronger argument that the crime was foreseeable than if nobody had ever been attacked on that property before. Sometimes, we use crime data in the area or 911 calls to the property to establish this foreseeability component of the claim.
South Carolina has a balancing test that essentially examines the foreseeability of harm versus the burden of imposing the security measures. See Lord v. D & J Enters., 407 S.C. 544, 757 S.E.2d 695 (2014). In other words, South Carolina law weights the economic interests of businesses against the safety of patrons. Under this legal test, the more foreseeable the crime, the higher the burden on the property owner to implement reasonable security measures to prevent crime.
What Are the Most Critical Types of Evidence in a South Carolina Negligent Security Case?
To establish the elements of negligence and foreseeability, you’ll need evidence, and not all evidence is created equal. Although evidence can come in lots of forms, some of the most useful forms of evidence are:
- Witness statements
- Expert witnesses
- Crime data
- 911 Call logs
- Police reports
- Incident reports
- Physical evidence, like camera equipment, locks, or gate mechanisms
- Testimony from officers or residents or anyone familiar with the history of criminal activity on the property
As we’ve talked about, the key in these types of cases is being able to show that the property owner knew about criminal activity on the property or around the property, ignored it, and didn’t take any steps to mitigate the risk of the foreseeable violent crime.
What Types of Compensation is Available in a South Carolina Negligent Security Case?
We talked about how there are economic and noneconomic damages, and you don’t want to leave money on the table. This is where your South Carolina negligent security attorney can help you to quantify all the ways in which you were damaged by the violent criminal attack you suffered. Sometimes, it takes the help of experts, like lifecare planners and other people who can property add up all the ways you’ve been harmed and then assign a dollar value to that harm.
Some of the easier types of damages to quantify are things like:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Rehabilitation costs
The more difficult damages to quantify would be things like:
- Lost earning capacity
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
- Mental anguish and trauma (think PTSD)
If the crime resulted in the death of a loved one, the damages could be a little different because the person who was attacked is no longer with us. In wrongful death cases, a variety of damages are available to loved ones and folks who were dependent on the deceased victim, as well as damages for things like funeral expenses and burial costs.
The key is to make sure all damages are accounted for, and this is where you will spend time with your South Carolina negligent security attorney to make sure you’re covering all your bases. Once a case is settled, you’ll likely have to sign a release of claims, and you likely won’t get to take a case to court twice (unless there’s a mistrial). So, you don’t get two bites at the apple, and you want to make sure you get complete compensation.
What Steps are Involved in Bringing a Negligent Security Claim?
Each process involves a series of steps. Without knowing the steps involved, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of what lies ahead. Thus, we find that it’s important to clarify these steps in an attempt to make victims of violent crime more aware of how they can assert their rights to compensation under South Carolina law. So, let’s dig into the process you’ll go through with your South Carolina negligent security attorney.
Each personal injury claim begins with a simple legal consultation. At our firm, you can schedule a consultation for free. All you have to do is call us or contact us on our website and schedule for a time that’s convenient for you.
During the consultation, you’ll discuss what happened, when it happened, and how you were hurt or harmed. These consultations are protected under the attorney-client privilege, so you can be honest and open about what happened.
Once the South Carolina negligent security attorney has a good understanding of what happened to you, the attorney can provide you with some ideas about your legal options moving forward. In our case, we’ll assess whether we believe you have a viable claim—a claim that has a good enough chance at a successful outcome to move it forward. If so, we’ll proceed to the next step.
If you have a claim that we believe we can help you with, the next step will be to get you to fill out an intake form so that we have some basic information about you. Additionally, you may be asked to describe what happened to you in detail. If the information you provide on your intake is different from the information discussed in the consultation, we can clear up any discrepancies in a follow up call; it’s important that we have accurate information.
Another step in this paperwork process will be to establish the attorney-client relationship with a contingency fee agreement. This agreement will outline the relationship and cover how fees and costs will be calculated, among other things.
In addition to the contingency fee agreement, we’ll likely ask you to sign a document that allows us to request your medical records. That way, we can get a better idea of what kinds of injuries you’ve suffered. Additionally, medical records can contain valuable information about how the injuries occurred and what was said to the doctors, as well as the doctor’s notes about the injuries.
One step we take early on in a claim is to send out an initial packet of documents that includes a letter of representation, a request for insurance information, and a letter of preservation. Each document serves a purpose. For example, the letter of representation lets potential defendants know that we are representing you. The letter of preservation or “spoliation letter” asks a potential defendant to retain information related to the claim so that it is not lost or destroyed. The request for insurance information is straightforward; this allows us to assess the insurance coverage available.
In the time between sending letters of representation and filing a lawsuit, there is an opportunity for the insurance company and/or potential defendants to assess the risk and cost of taking a claim through litigation. During this time, there is often an opportunity to engage in negotiations over the value of a potential settlement. If an agreement can be reached between both sides, we can settle your case, and the process ends here.
If the sides can’t come to an agreement over the value of a case, the case can proceed to litigation, which begins with filing a lawsuit or a “complaint” with the proper court. This starts the case down the track of litigation. After the complaint is filed, the parties will engage in discovery, which will usually involve written answers to questions called “interrogatories,” responses to requests for documents, and depositions.
The parties may engage in a mediation after exchanging discovery. Mediation is where a third-party, often a person with a great deal of litigation experience, will work with the parties to help the parties settle the case. The mediator has no vested interest in either side’s case; their purpose is to facilitate negotiations and help the parties to see each side’s arguments. If the parties are willing to compromise and come to an agreement, the case may be settled, and the process ends here.
If the parties cannot reach an agreement at mediation, the case may then proceed toward trial. Here, the parties will prepare to present their case to a jury, and the jury will decide (1) whether the defendants’ actions were negligent and, if so, (2) how much compensation the victim is entitled to. Keep in mind, the case may still settle between mediation and trial, and this is where the idea of “settling on the courthouse steps” comes from.
How Long After Getting Attacked on a Business Property Do You Have to Bring a Negligent Security Claim in South Carolina?
Pursuant to South Carolina Code Section 15-3-530, actions for injuries relating to a violent criminal attack on a business property must be brought within three (3) years. If the person dies as a result of the criminal attack, the case is a wrongful death case, not a personal injury case, and it must be brought within three (3) years of the victim’s death.
The statute of limitations is a hard line in the sand, and you must bring your claim within the timeframe allowed. Otherwise, the claim is subject to dismissal, and you may lose all your rights to compensation. Therefore, it is imperative that you begin working with a South Carolina negligent security attorney at the earliest opportunity to make sure your rights are protected.
FAQs in Relation to South Carolina Negligent Security Attorney
Q1: What is the negligence statute in South Carolina?
A1: Title 15, Chapter 38 of the South Carolina Code of Laws outlines important negligence concepts, including modified comparative negligence.
Q2: Can I sue someone for emotional distress near South Carolina?
A2: You can sue for emotional distress in South Carolina if you've suffered severe trauma due to another's intentional or reckless actions and if you can establish the elements of negligence by a preponderance of the evidence.
Q3: What is the statute of limitations for negligent security in South Carolina?
A3: In general, you have three (3) years from the date of your injury to file a personal injury lawsuit according to South Carolina laws, and you have three (3) years from the date of your loved one's death to file a wrongful death claim.
Q4: Can you sue for pain and suffering in a South Carolina negligent security case?
A4: You can sue for pain and suffering, which is a type of noneconomic damages in South Carolina. The key to a successful claim is establishing the 4 elements of negligence, which is applicable in most premises liability and negligent security cases.
Q5: What are common defenses to negligent security in South Carolina?
A5: The defense's arguments will generally hinge on the idea of foreseeability. The South Carolina Supreme Court has put it this way: "The more foreseeable a crime, the more onerous is a business owner's burden of providing security." Bass v. Gopal, Inc., 395 S.C. 129, 138, 716 S.E.2d 910, 915 (2011) (expounding upon the "balancing test" now applied in South Carolina negligent security cases). Your South Carolina negligent security attorneys will be working to counter any arguments the defense may bring up.
Q6: Does South Carolina allow punitive damages in negligent security cases?
A6: South Carolina law allows for punitive damages where the the plaintiff can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the plaintiff suffered harm as a result of the defendant's wilful, wanton, or reckless conduct. You can work with your South Carolina negligent security lawyers to determine if punitive damages might be available in your particular situation.
Q7: What is the burden of proof for punitive damages in South Carolina?
A7: The burden of proof for punitive damages is the "clear and convincing" standard, which is a bit more rigorous than the standard for establishing negligence, which is the "preponderance of the evidence" standard. Your South Carolina negligent security lawyers will work to establish punitive damages, if applicable, by using evidence of the defendants' egregious behavior that led to the violent criminal attack.