Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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In the early hours of July 1, 2017, dozens of people were injured in a Little Rock, Arkansas, nightclub shooting. The shooting occurred in the middle of a concert at Power Ultra Lounge. In total, 28 people suffered injuries, with 25 of those people suffering injuries from gunshot wounds. One witness advised the shooting occurred during the middle of the performance, with more than 50 shots being fired. The Little Rock Police Department began investigating immediately following the shooting, and local police will receive assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as well.

Government officials in Arkansas say this shooting is indicative of higher crime levels in Little Rock than in recent years. Between January and July 2017, for example, there have been 29 homicides in Little Rock. However, there were only 15 homicides during the same period of time in 2016. Violent crime in the area is also up more than 20% so far this year.

When a shooting, robbery, or other criminal act takes place at a private place of business, most immediately think of the criminal investigation that will take place and leave it at that. They think of yellow crime scene tape and officers flooding the scene to secure the premises and begin taking witness statements. The police will investigate and the perpetrator will then be charged and prosecuted in criminal court. However, in Arkansas, the analysis does not end there for victims of criminal attacks that were injured during the course and commission of a crime, including innocent bystanders.

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A 37-year-old man who fell while walking down stairs at his apartment complex received a jury verdict of $12 million. The incident occurred in 2012. One morning, he reached the bottom of a staircase when it collapsed, causing him to fall down and injure his ankle. Initially, he thought he just had a sprained ankle so he went to work.

However, as time went on, he started to feel more pain and was eventually diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). This condition affects the nervous system and causes consistent pain, stiffness, swelling, and muscle spasms, among others. He ended up receiving extensive physical therapy and over 100 nerve block injections to treat his agonizing pain.

He sued the owner and manager of Legacy Corner Apartments, where the accident took place. The lawsuit alleged that the defendants did not properly maintain their premises by allowing the staircase to deteriorate. At trial, the defendants disputed liability and damages. They did not take responsibility for the fall. Further, they contested the severity of the plaintiff’s injuries. Before trial, the defendants offered $1.25 million, which was rejected. At trial, the jury awarded $12 million – $6 million in actual damages and $6 million in punitive damages.

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The Missouri Court of Appeals has upheld a jury award of $3.25 million in favor of a woman shot in a parking lot where she worked. The lawsuit was against Owner-Operator Services, Inc., where the victim was working as a truck insurance agent support specialist. One evening, she was shot by her ex-partner in the company’s parking lot.

She filed a lawsuit against the company alleging negligence in failing to protect her. At trial, she introduced evidence that she was having problems with her ex-partner, such as stalking and sexual assault, and the company’s director of human resources knew about it. The victim told the director that the partner was leaving her harassing voicemails and that she felt fearful about him. The lawsuit alleged that although the company had security cameras and police patrols available, it did not take necessary measures to ensure the victim’s protection. After considering the evidence, the jury awarded her $3.25 million in damages.

Under Missouri law, a business owner generally has no duty to protect business invitees from criminal acts of unknown third parties because they are rarely foreseeable. However, there are a few exceptions. The first is when a person, known to be violent, is on the premises. Another exception is when a person is on the premises and “has conducted himself so as to indicate danger and sufficient time exists to prevent the injury.” The next exception states a business owner has a duty to protect invitees from criminal attacks of others under “special circumstances,” which means when it is foreseeable that certain actions or omissions will cause harm or injury to the invitee.

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hotelroom-1255076Hotels, just like any form of private property, owe a duty to the public to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe manner. This can include taking necessary measures to prevent foreseeable criminal attacks on guests. Hotels are meant to be a safe home away from home. The last thing you expect when staying in a hotel is to be the victim of a horrific crime, including assault or rape.

Sadly, that is precisely what happened to a Southern California woman who was staying at a Holiday Inn in Frazier Park, California. One night, she was sexually assaulted in her hotel room. She later sued the hotel for inadequate security measures, claiming that the hotel was negligent and did not properly provide for her safety. According to the lawsuit, the woman was sexually assaulted after a hotel employee negligently gave her room keys to a sexual predator. According to reports, the woman was staying at the Holiday Inn with her boyfriend, who was not in the room at the time of the crime. Video surveillance shows the attacker, later identified as Jonathan Padilla, speaking with the hotel receptionist at the front desk. Padilla is accused of being heavily intoxicated and under the influence of drugs.

The lawsuit further alleges that Padilla offered the receptionist $100 in exchange for sexual favors but was turned down. Footage shows Padilla leaving the front desk, only to return moments later requesting keys to his room. In reality, the keys Padilla requested were for the victim’s room. Not only did the receptionist fail to verify the occupants of the room, she failed to even ask Padilla his name. Instead, the keys were turned over and the perpetrator was allowed to permanently traumatize an innocent woman. He was later convicted of the crime in criminal court and sentenced to three years in jail.

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At some point in your life, you will inevitably encounter an intoxicated individual while you are out on the town.  Whether you are out running a simple errand to the grocery store or going out to happy hour after work, there is always a chance that you will come across an intoxicated individual that could potentially put you or your loved ones in danger.  With that in mind, the Tennessee Supreme Court, in Cullum v. McCool, made it very clear that if an intoxicated person is on a company’s property and poses a potential risk to the company’s patrons, then that company owes a duty to protect its patrons from foreseeable harm.

In Cullum, an intoxicated individual entered a Walmart store in Red Bank, Tennessee to get her prescriptions filled. Walmart employees, noticing the individual’s drunken state, refused to fill her prescriptions.  Once refused, the individual became belligerent, causing the pharmacy employees to order the individual out of the store.

This individual was a common patron at the Red Bank Walmart, and she had even entered the pharmacy on several occasions in an intoxicated state.  When they ordered her to leave, pharmacy employees knew she was alone and would be operating a motor vehicle to leave the Walmart parking lot.  However, the employees did not call the police, notify security, or take any further actions to ensure the safety of the other people in the store and store parking lot.

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caution-1189824Nobody visits a business or store expecting to be a victim of an assault, robbery, burglary, or rape by a third party criminal. The same goes for the employees who work at those businesses and stores. Unfortunately, sometimes these innocent bystanders are either directly targeted by criminals or indirectly injured while the criminal is in the process of committing a crime.

Inadequate security can cause problems that result in significant consequences, including life-altering injuries or even death. Recently, WREG News Channel 3 in Memphis investigated allegations that certain Memphis gas stations and convenient stores may be providing inadequate security for employees and customers on their premises. Inadequate security is an area of the law that can hold a property owner or manager partially or fully responsible when a person is injured by a criminal on the premises.

The WREG investigation looked into criminal activity occurring at Memphis discount and convenient stores such as Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar. Many of these stores are located in low income communities or high crime areas. Between 2014 and 2016, these stores accounted for more than 5,000 calls to police for incidents like disturbances, shoplifting, aggravated assault, car theft, and robbery. One representative of the Memphis Police Department described convenient store crime as being on the “forefront” when it comes to business robberies. To prevent crime, stores may choose to hire security guards or install lighting and cameras, which can deter criminals from entering the property in the first place.

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Historically, governments and governmental entities were immune from almost all lawsuits under the theory of sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity originated from old English common law whereby the king could do no wrong. This doctrine eventually carried over into the United States. Sovereign immunity hinged on the idea that for a government to effectively carry out its duties, it must be immune from the financial and legal burdens of litigation.

Without the government’s consent, citizens injured due to government wrongdoing were left without options for recovery. However, many states, including Tennessee, have slowly chipped away at the idea of complete sovereign immunity and have enacted legislation allowing suits against the government under specific circumstances. For over a century, Tennessee recognized the doctrine of sovereign immunity before it was codified as the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA).

The GTLA applies to Tennessee government, from counties to school districts. Through the Act, immunity is granted to governmental entities but with a number of exceptions. Part 2 of the Act provides for the removal of immunity for certain causes of action. Under the GTLA, governments can be sued for actions such as:

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old-house-3-1204887According to the most recent study by the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments responded to over 1,345,500 fires in 2015 across the United States.  As a result of these fires, there were a total of 15,700 civilian injuries and 3,280 civilian deaths.  Additionally, fires in 2015 resulted in over $14.3 billion in direct property loss.  Of the 3,280 civilian deaths, 78% of these deaths occurred in the home.  Across the nation, a civilian died in a home fire every three hours and 25 minutes in 2015.  Of the 15,700 fire injuries reported, 71% of these injuries occurred in the home resulting in a fire related injury every 47 minutes across the U.S.

Unfortunately fires happen.  Tennessee currently ranks sixth in the nation for fire mortality rates.  In the most recent report by the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office, 60 fatal fires were recorded in 2015 that resulted in 72 deaths.  While the cause of most of the fires is unknown, it is believed that smoking, electrical work, heating units, and cooking led to the most structure fires in 2015.

Whether these fires were intentional, “acts of God,” or caused by the negligence of the property owner, everyone should know what avenues of recovery are available to them. Survivors of a fire may experience serious burn injuries, such as third degree burns.  If you are injured in a structure fire, you may have a claim against the homeowner’s insurance liability coverage on the property.  It is important to note that the cause of the fire is a very important factor when deciding whether a homeowner’s liability coverage will cover an injured party’s injuries.  Intentional acts by the owner and acts of God generally will not be covered under a homeowner’s insurance policy.  However, if the owner acted negligently and a fire resulted, then you may have a valid claim against the owner’s policy.

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Who can imagine anything more nightmarish than having a family member or loved one killed, not by some unknown rogue assailant, but by the very people hired to protect the public? Many businesses that welcome customers hire private security companies to protect their property and customers from theft or attack. Although the vast majority of private security guards provide excellent protection and ensure an extra layer of safety to the public, situations can sometimes turn deadly when danger arises or guards are not being adequately trained and supervised. These situations are commonly referred to as inadequate or negligent security.

A night of holiday partying and merriment recently turned deadly at the O’Cielo Mexican Bar & Grill in Memphis, Tennessee, when shots rang out at the restaurant on December 14, 2016. News reports revealed that party attendees were shooting toward the bar when a private security guard, David Alexander, returned fire and hit two victims who were not the initial shooters. One of the victims, a 43-year-old man, died at the scene, and the other victim was critically injured. The security guard has since been arrested and charged with reckless homicide, aggravated assault, and acting as a guard without a license. The criminal case is currently pending before the Criminal Court of Shelby County, Tennessee.

When sudden catastrophic events arise, few people, amidst all of the grief and heartache, consider the full breadth of legal options for justice – justice that may extend beyond the criminal court realm. In civil court, loved ones of a deceased victim may have claims against the shooter or company that hired him under theories of agency, negligent hiring, or negligent training. Although no amount of money can make up for the loss of a loved one killed so tragically, many times the individual shooter does not possess sufficient assets to satisfy a wrongful death verdict in court. Thus, it is important to conduct a thorough investigation into the conduct of the business owner and/or private security company to gauge whether their conduct led to the loved one’s death.

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An event for teens in ended tragically in the death of two young men, ages 18 and 14, when shots rang out, just as parents were picking up their children from the event. A wrongful death lawsuit has since been filed, alleging claims ranging from negligence to inadequate security.

The shooting occurred outside of a business known Club Blu in Fort Myers, Florida. The club, which did not serve alcohol, was promoting and hosting events for teens. On the night in question, two young men died of gunshot wounds and sixteen others were injured, including children as young as 12 years old. Police have since arrested three suspects believed to be involved in the shooting.

Understandably, many of the victims and their families are now represented by attorneys and seeking compensation for their injuries. The men believed to have committed the crime, however, are not the only ones that may have legal responsibility for what happened that night.