A Florida jury has awarded $750,000 each to the parents of a young man who was strangled to death in a restaurant’s parking lot, in a negligent security case. Jurors decided that the management company that owns a McDonalds and the company that owns the property were negligent for not providing security on the morning of the man’s death. According to the plaintiffs, there were over 750 calls for service from the McDonald’s and the surrounding parking lot between 2001 and 2005. The calls were for juvenile disturbances, loitering and assaults. About 200 of the calls mentioned alcohol use and most were made between midnight and 5 a.m. on Friday nights into Saturday mornings and Saturday nights into Sunday mornings. The defense had argued that the types of calls did not indicate that a homicide was about to take place. A copy of the article regarding the case can be found here.
I have successfully handled many cases in Baltimore and other counties in Maryland against negligent property owners. Some are major slip and fall or trip and fall cases. Some have been negligent security cases. In such a case in Maryland, the law states that a landlord has a duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of tenants and invitees. If a landlord knows or by the exercise of reasonable care should know that criminal activity against persons or property has occurred on the landlord’s property, the landlord has a duty to take reasonable measures to pro-tect tenants and invitees against these criminal activities. In determining whether the measures taken by the landlord were sufficient, the landlord’s acts can be measured only by the criminal activities occurring on the landlord’s property and of which the landlord knew or should have known and not by those criminal activities occurring generally in the surround¬ing neighborhood.
In other types of premises liability cases in Maryland, the responsibility of those who own or possess property to people injured on their property depends upon the standard of care owed to the injured person. The standard of care depends upon the injured person’s status on the property. There are generally four classes of people.
The first is an Invittee. An invitee is a person who is invited or permitted to be on another’s prop¬erty for purposes related to the owner’s or occupier’s business. The duty owed to an invitee is to use reasonable care to see that those por¬tions of the property that the invitee may be expected to use are safe.
The second is a Social Guest or Licensee by Invitation. A social guest or licensee by invitation is a person who is permitted on the property of another for no business purpose of the owner or invitee but as the express or implied guest of the owner or occupier of the property. The duty owed to a social guest or licensee by invitation is to exercise rea¬sonable care to make the premises safe or to warn the guest of known danger¬ous conditions that cannot reasonably be discovered by the guest.
The third is a Bare Licensee. A bare licensee is a person who is on the property with the consent but not at the invitation of the owner or occupier, and who is there to serve his or her own interests but not to serve any interest of the owner or occupier. The fouth is a Trespasser. A trespasser is a person who is on the property of another without the con¬sent of the owner or occupier of the property. The only duty owed to a bare licensee or trespasser is to refrain from will¬ful injury or entrapment. A bare licensee or trespasser takes the property as it exists.
Sometimes, landlords violate a statute. The violation of a statute, which is a cause of a plaintiff’s injuries or damages, is evidence of negligence. Negligence is doing something that a person using reasonable care would not do or not doing something that a person using reasonable care would do. Reasonable care means that caution, attention or skill a reasonable person would use under similar circumstances.
Generally a landlord must have knowledge of the defect or unsafe condition before the accident occurred in sufficient time to correct it or to warn the tenant. The landlord is considered to have such knowledge when he or she knows or has reason to know of the defect or unsafe condition. This can be difficult to prove and is always a major issue in a premises liability case.