Can Our Company Be Sued for a Violent Crime Occurring at Our Business?
By definition, a crime has to happen somewhere. And frequently they occur on business premises. Violent crimes occurring at places of business can and do lead to lawsuits against business owners. Examples are:
Suits against theaters and retail stores for robberies occurring inside or in the parking lot;
Suits against apartments for break ins and attacks in and around the complex;
Suits against banks for robberies at or near outdoor ATM machines; and
Suits against paid parking lots for attacks or vehicle theft.
Typically the crime victim will sue the business owner, alleging such things as inadequate security policies and procedures, substandard lighting, failure to monitor the premises or failure to utilize armed guards. The criminal is rarely if ever sued, since he or she probably has no money to compensate the victim.
These lawsuits, especially those involving sexual assault, have led to seven figure verdicts against business owners. But a skilled attorney with experience in these cases can successfully defend them, as Texas law provides significant protections for businesses sought to be held financially responsible for a crime. For instance, the business can designate the criminal (even an unknown “John Doe”) as a responsible party in the suit, so that the jury can assess his/her responsibility and weigh it against the responsibility of the business. Additionally, Texas law holds that only in the rarest of circumstances can a business be liable for punitive damages in the event of a crime occurring there.
Of course, the best way to protect against these suits is to take all reasonable steps to protect your tenants, employees and customers from criminal attacks. This could include steps as simple as changing your locks, making sure lighting is adequate and simply being aware of what is going on in the neighborhood. And there are many professional consultants who can assess your business and help you minimize crime. Above all, be careful! And call us if your business needs advice or representation in this area.