Can an Injured Person Recover Against a Business for Negligent Security When Another Customer Causes the Injury?
By: Jeffrey Shaw, Esq.
Published: August 29, 2019
The key analysis is whether the injury was foreseeable by the business owner.
The concept of “negligent security” has undergone some real changes in Indiana during the prior few years and it has not been in favor of the injured people.
It’s important to remember to establish a claim for “negligence” on the part of any landowner (like a business, store or restaurant) for your injury, first you must show that the landowner owed you a duty. Next, you must show that duty was breached (not met) by the landowner which directly caused the injuries.
Recently, the Indiana Supreme Court has focused upon the “duty” question first because Indiana has long recognized that a possessor (owner) of property “not an insurer of the visitor’s safety.”
Consequently, to determine whether a duty exists towards the injured person, Courts start with an analysis of whether the general class of persons of which the injured person was a member suffered a harm that could be normally expected. Rogers v. Martin, 63 N.E.2d 316 (Ind. 2016). In other words, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that “foreseeability” is an essential component of the duty element of negligence and that analysis starts with looking at who the injured person was and how the injury happened in a general sense.
Types of Negligent Security Claims and Situations
So, how are injured persons hurt on the property of businesses by others in a general sense? There can be many circumstances in which a person is injured on a business property by the actions of others. The most common of these is probably the tavern or bar fight, which escalates inside or outside the establishment.
That isn’t the only type of negligent security case – other cases include claims of injured persons who were attacked or assaulted by others while on business property like a parking lot while attempting to leave the establishment. Some people are injured at parties when a fight breaks out among guests and the injured person attempts to hold the party host liable for “negligent security.” Other instances include customers injured during the course of a robbery or other criminal activity on the property.
How Negligent Security Claims are Decided by Indiana Courts
Courts start with the idea that a business proprietor owes its customers, patrons and invited guests a duty “to take reasonable precautions to protect invitees from foreseeable criminal acts.”
The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled recently that a tavern owner was not responsible for a shooting inside a neighborhood bar as a matter of law because bar owners do not “routinely contemplate that one bar patron might suddenly shoot another.” Goodwin v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar & Grill, Inc., 62 N.E.3d 384 (Ind. 2016).
This idea is similar to a slip and fall analysis — that a landowner or business proprietor must have an “opportunity” to remedy a hazardous condition. Similarly, party hosts have been held not responsible for fights that break out among guests, even if alcohol was served during the party, because such fights can occur “unpredictably.”
These recent decisions by the Indiana Supreme Court to relieve landowners for responsibility for unforeseeable criminal acts upon their property might be an acknowledgement of today’s unstable society where handguns are ubiquitous, violence is commonplace and criminal acts seem to occur without warning in places previously thought safe (movie theaters, concerts, workplace).
But, not every criminal act on a business property is unforeseeable. Consequently, a business proprietor or landowner can be held responsible for negligent security when they have knowledge of escalating threats and taunts among guests but failed to take reasonable steps to provide for patron safety.
In Hamilton v. Steak ‘n Shake Operations, Inc. (March, 2018), a group of restaurant customers taunted another individual for nearly 30 minutes of time with the restaurant management telling the group to “take it outside” where one person was shot. The Indiana Court of Appeals found that a business owner can be held liable in that situation because it had knowledge of the events taking place on its premises such that a reasonable person would have been induced to take precautions to avoid it. Once again, “foreseeability” is the key analysis to any negligent security claim.
The bottom line is this – negligent security cases are difficult and you need an experienced Indiana negligent security attorney who has handled these matters for 30+ years. If you’ve recently been hurt by another customer or visitor on a business property in Indiana, you might be eligible to pursue a claim against that property owner for your damages.