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Are You Guilty of Negligent Security?

One of the biggest influences on security decision making today is the fear of legal liability and lawsuits. There have been numerous court cases involving claims of "negligent security" on the part of property owners and business operators.


Most states require that property owners take reasonable steps to protect tenants, employees and customers from foreseeable harm. Employers also have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for employees and this generally includes protection from criminal acts that are foreseeable. Schools, apartment buildings, day care centers, hospitals, and other facilities also have a duty to provide a reasonable degree of security for their students, residents, patients, employees, customers, and visitors.


When a property owner or business fails to take reasonable steps to provide adequate security, and a person suffers loss or injury as a result, a lawsuit alleging "negligent security" may be filed. Settlements resulting from these cases can easily involve hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. The costs of defending against such a lawsuit can be very significant, even if the property owner eventually wins.


The key to winning or losing these cases usually involves an interpretation on the part of the court as to whether or not the specific crime or event was "foreseeable", and if so, whether or not "reasonable" steps were taken on the part of the property owner or business to prevent such an event from occurring. Because there are generally no laws or standards that regulate the types of security measures that a private business must have, courts and juries often rely on the testimony of security experts to determine what was "foreseeable" and "reasonable" given the specific facts of the case.


While it is impossible to completely prevent a negligent security lawsuit from being filed against your organization, having a well thought-out security program in place can reduce claims and increase your chances of defending yourself against a frivolous lawsuit.


A review of negligent security cases reveals numerous security deficiencies that are used as the basis for the majority of lawsuits. By learning about these common deficiencies in advance, you can better plan your security program and avoid making the same mistakes made by others.


The following are some common deficiencies in security programs that could be used as the basis for a negligent security lawsuit. While any of these deficiencies alone may not constitute negligence on the part of the organization, they should be seen as "red flags" that warrant further consideration and possible attention:

  • Lack of awareness of current crime conditions at the property and in the surrounding community.

  • Inadequate or outdated security plans and procedures.

  • Not consistently following established security plans or procedures.

  • Lack of adequate employee training.

  • Lack of adequate physical security measures.

  • Lack of adequate security staff.

  • Failure to conduct security background checks on employees and contractors.

  • Inadequate lighting at building entrances, in parking garages, or in exterior parking lots.

  • Poorly maintained facilities - broken doors and locks, overgrown landscaping, etc.

  • Inoperative or poorly maintained security system equipment: defective cameras, inoperative panic alarms, etc.

  • Ignoring complaints about crime or security from tenants, employees, customers and guests


  • Failure to take workplace violence threats seriously.

  • Inconsistencies in security staffing that are not supported by risk assessment data; for example, having security officers on duty at some times but not others solely to reduce costs.

  • Inconsistencies in security systems that are not supported by risk assessment data; for example, having cameras in one area of the facility but not another exclusively for budgetary reasons.

  • Over representing or overselling the level of security that is provided; for example, using statements such as "security building", "completely safe", "crime-free"; stating that areas are under "24 Hour Surveillance" when in fact they are not.

  • Reducing the level of security provided at the facility for budgetary reasons without a corresponding reduction in the level of security risk.

  • Ignoring increased levels of crime in the surrounding neighborhood and failing to make corresponding improvements in the facility's security program.

  • Failing to provide a level of security that is equal to or greater than that provided in similar neighboring facilities.

  • Failure to adequately protect confidential information such as employee records, medical records, credit information, or proprietary information owned by others.

If you think that your facility may have exposure due to any of these deficiencies, it is recommended that you discuss them with your attorney and a security professional to determine the appropriate corrective actions to be taken.


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