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Negligent Security and Wrongful Death Claims

August 25th, 2020 | by RON BELL

Negligent Security and Wrongful Death Claims

Read this blog to find out the circumstances in which the family of a fatal victim of violent crime may file a wrongful death claim against the owner of the property where the fatal incident happened.

As the coronavirus rages on in the US, the long-term effects of the pandemic – on local, national, and global levels – still largely remain something of a guessing game. There is no doubt, though, that the COVID-19 outbreak has already changed both our communities and our country as a whole – often in ways that previously had been hard to imagine. 

While some short-term consequences were mostly negative (including economic downturn or rampant unemployment), one of them stands out as strikingly positive: namely, markedly lower crime rates across the country. In April, for example, many news outlets reported that the pandemic can be credited for having reduced the number of school shootings in March to zero  – allegedly, the first time this has been accomplished since 2002.

Sadly, while the downward trend in crime rates and shooting numbers is unlikely to become anything but a temporary respite, the victims of previous mass shootings are still dealing with emotional, physical, and financial consequences of past tragedies. 

In New Mexico, the rate of gun violence-related deaths is 40 percent higher than the US average. Many of these deaths and others also due to violent crimes can be attributed to the negligent security of public premises such as businesses, residential neighborhoods, or schools. In this article, we will briefly explore potential legal remedies for families of individuals who lost their lives in a violent crime where negligent security might have been a factor.

What is Negligent Security?

The principle of negligent security, a legal concept that we have already discussed in more detail in a previous blog post, is a subset of a broader set of laws regulating premises liability. Premises liability law makes it clear that the owner of a property has a duty to ensure the safety of any third party who comes onto the property for business and commercial purposes, or as social guests. This can be applied to a variety of actors in different settings – from shoppers at a mall, to hotel guests, to tenants of residential properties.

More specifically, negligent security may be a factor when an individual falls victim to a crime on a property owned by a third-party. If an incident may be classified as a foreseeable crime, proof of negligent security may lead to legal action against the owner of the property or another party responsible for its management. If you have sustained injuries in a crime incident contributed to by negligent security, you could expect to receive damages to compensate for financial losses related to the injuries such as medical expenses, lost wages, and more.

How Negligent Security Relates to Wrongful Death

Wrongful death may also be part of a personal injury claim. According to New Mexico state laws, it is defined as a death caused by a wrongful act, such as negligence or recklessness, of another party that would have given the victim damages if the injuries sustained by the victim had not proved fatal. In wrongful death cases, close relatives of the victim, like the surviving spouse and children, may be entitled to compensation on behalf of their deceased family member. 

This compensation usually entails the following kinds of damages:

  • Medical bills for the treatment of the injuries later resulting in death
  • Victim’s lost wages (including the loss of future earning capacity)
  • Victim’s pain and suffering damages (as experienced prior to death)
  • Emotional anguish damages (for suffering experienced by the family members as a result of the loss of a loved one)
  • Loss of consortium, affection, companionship, and guidance
  • Funeral and burial expenses

Injury claims related to wrongful death caused by negligent security must be filed by the family of a person who died as a result of a preventable crime on a property owned by a third party. To successfully defend your loved one’s wrongful death claim and obtain compensation, you must be able to prove that the crime in which your loved one was killed was a foreseeable crime and that the security on the property was inadequate. 

Foreseeable crime refers to an incident that the owner of the property may reasonably suspect could happen on his or her property (for example, because the same or very similar crime has already taken place on the property or in the area). Inadequate security refers to the lack of reasonable security measures that may be expected to deter a criminal or prevent a crime from happening. 

The kinds of premises where inadequate security measures may enable a criminal act, lead to injuries, and result in negligent security claims may include:

  • Residential property, e.g. housing complexes or apartment buildings 
  • Commercial property such as shopping malls or retail shops
  • Bars and nightclubs
  • Hotels 
  • Schools

For example, in the aftermath of the infamous Aztec High School shooting of 2017, the family of one of the victims filed wrongful death claims alleging negligent security against both the school district, the police, and the FBI. The mother of Casey Jordan Marquez, Jamie Lattin, is maintaining that the school wasn’t properly secured for the event of a mass shooting and that neither police nor the FBI has taken adequate measures to prevent the crime even though they had information pointing to the risk.

Wrongful death claims alleging negligent security may take a great emotional toll on the victim’s family. These claims may also be particularly legally complex, challenging to defend, and last longer than other injury claims. Still, filing such a claim may be a viable remedy to defend the deceased person’s right to compensation as well as an important means for the family to achieve emotional closure. 

In any case, when contemplating a negligent security wrongful death claim, finding an attorney experienced in representing families of victims of a wrongful claim will no doubt be of tantamount importance – for both the potential success of the claim and the emotional comfort of the family.

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