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Who Can Be Sued in a Negligent Security Lawsuit?

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December 7, 2023

A negligent security case arises when a person is the victim of a crime on someone else’s property due to the failure of the property owner to maintain reasonable security measures. Several different types of defendants could be liable, including business owners, landlords, property managers, and security companies that may owe a duty of care to the injured victim. As you navigate this complex area of premises liability, it is helpful to understand who the typical defendants are in a negligent security action. This article aims to give you a basic understanding of who can be sued. Your lawyer can explain this in more detail as it applies to your case, and help you to bring a claim against the appropriate defendants in your negligent security claim.

What is a negligent security claim?

A negligent security claim is a specific type of premises liability lawsuit that is based on the fact that the property owner or manager did not take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their patrons or tenants, and it was foreseeable that someone would be injured by a criminal act on the property. Such cases often involve incidents like assaults, robberies, or shootings that happen in places where appropriate security measures could have prevented the crime. 

In a negligent security claim, four key elements of negligence must be proven for the case to be successful. 

Duty of Care: The first element is that the defendant (the property owner or manager) had a duty to ensure the safety of individuals on their premises. This duty is the most important in identifying who you can sue in a negligent security case. People or companies that owed a duty of care to the victim are potential defendants in a negligent security lawsuit.

Breach of the Duty of Care: The second element of negligence focuses on the breach of that duty. It must be shown that the defendant failed to meet the standard of care required, for example by not addressing known security risks, inadequately lighting the property, or failing to employ sufficient security personnel. 

Causation: The third element is causation, meaning the plaintiff must demonstrate that their injury happened because the defendant breached their duty of care. This requires showing that the criminal act that caused the injury was foreseeable and would not have occurred if proper security measures had been in place. 

Damages: The fourth and final element is the proof of harm or damage. The plaintiff must provide tangible evidence of the harm suffered, such as physical injury, psychological trauma, or financial loss. An attorney experienced in premises liability and negligent security cases should gather evidence and expert witness testimony to effectively prove these elements.

Who are the defendants that owe a duty of care to the victim of negligent security?

In negligent security claims, the defendant is usually the person or entity that owns or controls the property where the injury occurred. However, many negligent security cases involve multiple defendants and entities that are not the owners of the property, including:

Property Owners

The property owner is the most obvious defendant in a negligent security claim. They own the property and generally have a duty to provide reasonable security measures to keep visitors to the property safe from foreseeable criminal attack.

Commercial Businesses

Businesses that lease commercial spaces, like stores, restaurants, or offices, have a responsibility to maintain safe premises for their customers and employees, and are potential defendants in a negligent security claim. If a commercial tenant fails to provide adequate security measures and someone is injured as a result, they could potentially be held liable. For instance, if a store in a mall is regularly targeted by thieves due to poor security and a customer is injured during one such incident, the victim may be able to bring a negligent security claim against the store. 


Although a landlord is often also a property owner, they are worth discussing separately because of the responsibilities that go along with leasing out property to another person. A landlord has a responsibility to their tenants and visitors to the property, which differ depending on the specific circumstances of the attack. A landlord is typically responsible for maintaining common areas such as stairwells and parking lots. If a landlord neglects to repair a broken lock and an attacker gains access as a result, or fails to provide proper lighting in a communal area where a tenant is later attacked, they may be liable for negligent security.

Property Managers

Property management companies are another category of defendants in negligent security claims. These companies, who are often hired by property owners to oversee the daily operations of a property, are usually tasked with ensuring reasonable safety measures are in place. This can include the installation and maintenance of adequate lighting, surveillance systems, and secure locks. If a violent crime or injury occurs on the property due to a lack of such security measures, the property management company could potentially be held liable. 

Security Contractors

In certain situations, a security contractor can be a defendant in a negligent security claim. These are professionals or firms employed by property owners or businesses to implement and manage security measures. If an incident occurs due to alleged failures or lapses in the security contractor's services, they could potentially be held liable. Examples of such failures might include poorly trained security personnel, ineffective surveillance systems, or a lack of response to known security threats.

The criminal is NOT a defendant in a negligent security claim.

It is important to remember that the criminal attacker is not a defendant in a negligent security claim. They may be a defendant in a separate criminal claim brought by the authorities. In the criminal claim, the attacker faces criminal penalties, such as imprisonment. Your civil negligent security claim is against the property owners (or other potential defendant listed above) for financial compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses caused by the attack.

Why is a defendant’s corporate structure relevant to a negligent security claim?

When suing a company as part of a negligent security claim, understanding the corporate structure is important. The company’s structure designates the liable entity; it could be a parent company, a subsidiary, or an individual franchisee, and if you do not name the correct entity, you may not be able to recover compensation in your claim. For instance, in the case of franchises, the franchisee - the individual business owner - is often the responsible party rather than the larger franchising company. However, in instances where a large corporation owns a chain of properties, the parent company itself might be the defendant. Smaller, privately owned businesses usually imply that the owner of the property is the defendant. In each scenario, different strategies and legal considerations apply. Therefore, it is crucial to have the assistance of an attorney who is experienced in premises liability and negligent security claims, and who understands the complexities of corporate structures in these lawsuits.

What role do the defendants’ insurance companies play in a negligent security claim?

Insurance companies play a critical role in premises liability claims, often being the entity from which compensation is sought. When a negligent security claim is filed, the defendant's insurance company typically steps in to handle the claim. If you have multiple defendants, you will likely also be dealing with multiple insurance companies. The insurer's role includes assessing the claim's validity, determining the extent of the property owner's liability, and negotiating settlements. Although insurance companies are obligated to act in good faith, it's important to remember that they are for-profit entities. Their primary goal is often to minimize the payout. Therefore, having an experienced attorney to advocate on your behalf is crucial to ensure a fair and adequate compensation for your injuries.

At Morris James, our attorneys have been standing up for victims since we opened our doors in 1932. If you or a loved one has been harmed as a result of negligent security or you have questions about this topic, you may find answers in our Negligent Security FAQs. You can also contact us online or call us 302.655.2599 to learn more.


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