The number of violent crimes committed every year is staggering. Despite being on a historical decline, nearly 1.2 million violent crimes were committed in the United States last year, according to the FBI’s annual report, Crime In The United States, 2015.
This number is even more troublesome when you consider that it represents only 5 types of crimes: murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
Many states establish funds that assist victims and their families with some forms of compensation, such as paying for a limited amount of medical expenses. However, these funds often allow for a very limited recovery and typically don’t compensate victims for important types of damages, such as pain and suffering.
Many victims of these crimes are surprised to learn that the person who committed the crime may not be the only person that the law holds responsible for what happened. Some states, including Tennessee, recognize that when someone commits a crime on someone else’s property, the property owner may be financially responsible for compensating the victims of the crime, depending on the circumstances.
How can it be that the owner of the property may be responsible to compensate the victim for another person’s criminal actions? It’s largely an issue of foreseeability.
The Tennessee Supreme Court addressed exactly this issue in McClung v. Delta Square Ltd. Pshp. That case arose from the tragic death of a 37 year-old woman, Dorothy McClung. She had been shopping on a September 1990 afternoon when she was abducted in a store’s parking lot at gunpoint. After being abducted, her attacker raped her and locked her in the trunk of her car, where she suffocated.
Her family took the shopping center where she was kidnapped to court. In doing so, they brought attention to the shopping center’s failure to provide adequate security.
As a result, the Tennessee Supreme Court determined that, while a property owner or a business is not obligated to guaranty the safety of people that enter onto their property, they do have “a duty to take reasonable steps to protect customers…if the business knows, or has reason to know…that criminal acts against its customers on its premises are reasonably foreseeable…”
How do you know if a crime is reasonably foreseeable? There’s no simple answer.
Cases involving shopping center safety in Memphis and throughout Tennessee are highly fact-specific. In McClung, the Court looked to “the number, frequency, and nature of the crimes reported to police” as taking place “on or in the immediate vicinity” of the property where Mrs. McClung was abducted. In doing so, the Court determined that the property was in a “high-crime area.” The high number of crimes, as well as the severity of the crimes committed, indicated to the Court that the attack of Mrs. McClung was likely foreseeable.
The Court went on to explain that when evaluating the responsibility of the business or property owner to take action, it is also necessary to consider both 1) the burden created by undertaking preventative security measures and 2) the severity of the potential harm to those on their property.
Ultimately, the Court concluded that a property owner’s failure to take reasonable steps to protect those on their property can be a cause of the harm suffered by victims of violent crime. As a result, the property owner may be responsible for compensating the victim of the crime.
At Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz our injury attorneys are focused on obtaining compensation pursuant to Tennessee law for those who have suffered personal injuries caused by another person or company’s negligence. If you, or someone you care about, have been injured due to inadequate security at an apartment complex, convenient store, shopping mall, or other place of business, contact our experienced attorneys at 1-800-LAW-4004 to find out how we can help. We offer a free consultation.