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Can a property owner be held liable for inadequate security?

Can property owners be held liable when someone is injured in a crime committed on their property? The answer, as is so often the case in the law, is "it depends." There are cases where a property owner can be found liable for injuries after failing to provide reasonable warnings or adequate security. To explain how, first we must discuss the basics of premises liability law.

Premises liability is the legal theory that can hold property owners liable after someone else is injured in a preventable accident on their property. A common use of premises liability is in a case where a customer is injured in a fall after slipping on a spill at a restaurant or grocery store.

The theory holds that property owners have a duty to their guests to exercise reasonable care so as to avoid foreseeable accidents. A key concept here is foreseeability.

For example, in a grocery store, it is foreseeable that a liquid might spill onto a slick floor, and a customer might slip on it and be injured. The store owner therefore has a duty to take reasonable care to avoid the safety hazard. The owner doesn't necessarily have to provide slip-proof floors, but should clean up spills promptly and warn customers of any hazards.

Foreseeability is a major issue in premises liability cases involving criminal activity by third party. For example, imagine a case where a moviegoer is injured when he is mugged in the parking lot of a movie theater. Ordinarily, a court would find the movie theater is not liable for criminal acts by a third party. However, if this was the fourth such mugging in the parking lot in the past month, a court might find that the hazard was foreseeable. Therefore, the court might find, the movie theater had a duty to take reasonable care to warn or protect its customers.

There are many issues to consider when filing a claim based on premises liability. An experienced attorney can help the injured or their families to understand their legal options.

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John McCabe wrote "The Investigation and Analysis of Personal Injury Cases" in the best-selling book Personal Injury Practice in North Carolina. This is the book that other lawyers follow in handling personal injury cases.

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