Inadequate Security

Under Massachusetts law, business and property owners may have a legal duty to provide security measures to protect people on their premises from criminal activity. In certain situations, it’s not enough for a business or property owner to rely on the police to protect the public from harm or to rely on people’s abilities to defend themselves from robbers, thieves or other criminals.

The security measures that a business or property owner might be required to take to protect people lawfully on their premises might range from providing adequate lighting or emergency call boxes up to providing the most sophisticated private security systems, with roving security details and close-captioned cameras.

In considering whether security measures were inadequate, one thing that is likely to be important is prior criminal activity that has occurred on the premises or in the neighborhood. A high crime rate of course suggests that a business or property owner should have taken serious steps to deter criminal activity on its premises.

However, even if the property where the crime occurred is located in a low- to no-crime neighborhood, the business or property might have a duty to provide security for the premises, if in the totality of the circumstances, criminal activity was foreseeable. So, to use a famous case as an example, an all-woman’s college might have a duty to take more stringent security measures even if it is located in a leafy suburb of Boston because certain crime may be foreseeable there.

Massachusetts courts have not really touched on the issue but, generally speaking, the precautions that one is legally required to take to prevent a certain type of injury depends on how burdensome the precautions are, the seriousness of the harm that could result and the likelihood of the harm occurring. This is generally known as the “Learned Hand formula” of negligence, after the great Judge Learned Hand who first articulated it.

Applying the Hand formula in the inadequate security context leads to the conclusion that the more serious the crime – say an assault or other crime of violence – the greater the precautions that the business or property owner must take to deter it. So, for example, a parking garage might be required to take more steps to prevent its patrons from getting assaulted than it is required to take to prevent crimes like the theft of car stereos or hub caps.

Very often, a business or property owner will hire private security to help protect its premises but the security personnel on duty will be “asleep at the switch” when a crime occurs. This might enable the victim of inadequate security to pursue claims against the security company as well as the business or property owner, both for their negligence and as a third-party beneficiary of the security contract between the premises owner and the security company.

In most serious inadequate security cases, your lawyer will retain an independent security consultant as an expert witness. A security consultant can usually perform highly-detailed breakdowns of local crime data and advise your lawyer of state-of-the-art security measures as well as security industry best practices.

If you think you’ve been the victim of a crime caused by inadequate security, call us at (617)648-8263 for a free consultation.