Shootings can happen anywhere, including shopping centers, bars, gas stations, campuses, and gas stations. Florida currently ranks third in the United States for the number of mass shootings but shootings usually involve just one or two victims. While the shooter is certainly responsible for the attack, property owners and managers may have some legal liability of they failed to provide adequate security for patrons, visitors, and guests.
When a shooting occurs, it’s common for a lawsuit to follow, usually against the owner of the property or even a security company or event organizer. This is because property owners owe a duty of care under Florida law. If you or someone you love has been the victim of a shooting on someone else’s property, you may have a claim against the property owner if they were negligent in protecting guests and customers and had reason to foresee the potential for a shooting.
How Premises Liability Works in Florida
Premises liability is an area of law in Florida that allows property owners and managers to be held responsible for injuries and crimes like shootings that occur on their property due to unsafe conditions or negligent security.
Under Florida law, property owners owe a duty of care to residents, guests, and customers to maintain a safe property free of hazards and conditions that encourage or allow crime to occur.
This duty of care is limited, however. Property owners aren’t required to warn visitors about obvious hazards nor are they expected to protect guests and customers from unforeseeable risks that require unreasonable protection. For example, a property owner can’t be expected to predict an earthquake, nor can they foresee and plan for all types of crime.
When certain elements are met, however, property owners can be liable for a shooting that occurs on their property.
Can a Property Owner Be Responsible for a Shooting in Florida?
Premises liability cases are notoriously difficult but there are cases in which a property owner can be legally liable for a shooting by a third party on the property. In most cases, these claims involve negligent security.
Proving a premises liability case involving a shooting requires proving:
- The premises owner owed a duty of care to the victim. Trespassers are owed the least duty of care while customers are owed the highest duty.
- The duty of care was breached. In the case of a shooting, this usually means the owner did not provide adequate security and should have foreseen that a shooting or violent crime could occur.
- The breach of duty led to the injury.
- The victim suffered damages in the shooting.
Did the Property Owner Owe a Duty of Care?
Under Florida law, there are three classifications for victims in a premises liability case. Customers and invitees are given the highest duty of care. People who are allowed on the property for their own convenience or purposes — such as a solicitor — are owed a lower duty of care. Trespassers are owed little duty of care.
If you were hurt in a shooting at someone else’s property, the property owner owed you a duty of care if you were there as a customer, tenant, or invited guest. You would also be owed some duty of care if you were there for another purpose such as delivering a package or just to make change at the register.
Did the Property Owner Breach Their Duty of Care?
After establishing that the property owner had a duty of care to the victim, the next step is more complicated: proving that the property owner’s negligence or recklessness led to a breach in their duty of care.
Property owners aren’t responsible for all crimes that occur on their property. A property owner in Florida isn’t responsible for protecting visitors, guests, or tenants from all actions by third parties but a duty exists when a criminal act like a shooting is foreseeable and can be prevented with security measures.
Showing that the property owner should have foreseen that a shooting or other violent crime could occur on the property and failed to take reasonable security measures can be a challenge. For example, after the Cinemark theater shooting in Aurora, a premises liability lawsuit failed as the jury could not consider the shooting foreseeable because it had never happened before. The same reasoning can apply with other high-profile shootings, but as mass shootings become more common, juries will be less likely to view a shooting as unforeseeable — even if the likelihood of a shooting remains very low.
Property owners can be held liable for not only failing to take adequate security measures to stop a shooting but also in how they respond to the shooting to reduce the number of victims.
Many factors can be considered to determine if a shooting should have been foreseeable such as:
- The crime rate in the area
- A history of crime on the premises
- High-profile shootings at similar properties
- Known issues with the shooter at the property
- Whether security personnel noted anything suspicious
- Whether the property had security measures in place such as metal detectors, security guards, and sufficient exits
As an example, consider the tragic Orlando Pulse shooting. Could security guards or bodyguards performing pat downs have detected the weapons the shooter used? Would it have been reasonable for metal detectors to be implemented at the entrance? Would these measures have been reasonable for a nightclub owner to implement? Do nightclub owners in the future have reason to foresee a potential shooting and use adequate security measures?
After showing that the property owner owed the victim a duty of care and breached this duty, the next hurdle is showing that the property owner’s negligence had a cause-and-effect relationship with the shooting.
Schedule a Consultation with a Premises Liability Lawyer
If you or someone you love has been hurt in a shooting on someone else’s property, you may have a case against the property owner for negligent security or premises liability. These cases are very complicated and require proving several components of your case. An experienced premises liability attorney in Florida can help you investigate the shooting, including police reports, crime rates, and security measures, to establish liability.
If your loved one was lost or injured due to the negligence of a property owner, its important explore your legal options for a premises liability case. We know that it’s impossible to assign a dollar value to a human life, but we also recognize that compensation can make a difficult situation much easier to manage. Contact Florida Premises Liability attorneys at SteinLaw for a free consultation in Florida. Attorney Stein offers a free case review, which you can schedule by calling 877-783-4652 or click here to text 844-STEIN.99.