Victims of violent crimes, sexual attacks or robberies have a theoretical right to sue the perpetrator for damages suffered. After all, practically any crime with an individual victim is also an intentional tort, and the plaintiff in a civil action against the criminal does not need to prove the claim beyond a reasonable doubt, as a prosecuting attorney would in a criminal case. Unfortunately, this right of civil action against a criminal is almost always merely theoretical. Even if the assailant or robber is brought to justice, only in rare circumstances will the perpetrator have assets available to meet the damages proven.
Civil Damages for Criminal Acts through Premises Liability Litigation
The law of negligent security has developed to provide an alternative means of civil relief for the victims of violent crimes, especially in situations where the victim had reason to expect at least some degree of protection on the part of a business or property owner. California law recognizes a general right of recovery in favor of the victim of a violent crime who can prove that the crime would probably not have occurred if someone else had taken reasonable steps to prevent it.
What makes negligent security litigation especially challenging for the plaintiff is the law’s vague guidance as to what constitutes a duty of reasonable care to prevent crime and the specific measures a property owner should take to meet that responsibility under the facts of a given case. Whether or not a negligence action will succeed can typically be assessed under a “totality of the circumstances” test — in other words, a property owner’s negligence will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis rather than under a single set of rules.
Establishing the Case for Negligence through Focused Investigation
An experienced personal injury lawyer who is familiar with the demands of negligent security litigation under a variety of situations will use the tools of pretrial discovery and expert evaluation to develop a theory of liability that matches the facts of the case at hand. The investigation will consider such issues as the prevalence of crime in the immediate area, the preventive measures taken previously by past or current owners, negligent maintenance of lighting or electronic surveillance systems and other questions of fact.
These inquiries will focus on the reasonableness of the protective steps actually taken by the property owner in light of the known risks to visitors, residents or patrons of the premises where the attack took place, and the ways necessary measures were ignored or discontinued. In that way, the owner’s duty of care under a premises liability theory of negligence can be specifically defined in terms of the facts of the case and not an abstraction of general security responsibilities.
Call a San Francisco Premises Liability Attorney: 866-288-6010
With offices in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and San Rafael, the personal injury attorneys of Weber & Nierenberg offer reliable advice and energetic advocacy to people throughout the Bay Area who need to know their civil litigation options in the aftermath of a serious criminal attack. Contact us for a free consultation at any of our locations, or visit our website.