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What is the owner’s security responsibility?

In New York, owners and landlords owe a duty of care to guests on their property to keep their property in a safe condition and minimize foreseeable dangers such as criminal acts committed by third parties. Failure to comply with this duty may impose liability upon the owners.

This duty is not absolute, however. Owners and landlords are not insurers of visitor safety. Past experiences and the likelihood that other persons may endanger visitors shape this duty.

Also, independent and intervening events may relieve an owner or landlord of liability. These events must be extraordinary under the circumstances, unforeseeable under the normal course of events or far removed from the owners’ conduct.

For example, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the City of New York was not liable for an attack by four unidentified hoodlums upon a person attending a concert in a city park. The victim was attacked without provocation in the parking lot. The Court found that this attack was not a foreseeable result of a security breach, the City took adequate steps to provide adequate control or security and there were no reasonable measures to provide security for each concertgoer at an event that involved thousands of attendees over a large area. The attack was an unforeseeable and intervening act.

In another recent case, a New York appellate court found that a fast-food restaurant in the Bronx was not liable for the shooting death of an off-duty police officer in its parking lot by a uniformed police officer. After five men had assaulted the off-duty officer in the restaurant, he went to the parking lot and held a handgun to a person he mistakenly believed participated in that attack. The uniformed officer shot the off-duty policeman when he refused to put down the gun.

Even if the restaurant had an inadequate security monitoring system, according to the Court, it would be speculative that any other measures could have prevented the events and subsequent shooting in the parking lot. The actions of the decedent and police were extraordinary or foreseeable or preventable in the normal course of events.

Premises liability cases may be complex and depend on collecting sufficient facts and evidence. Prompt legal assistance may help assure that individuals may receive compensation for serious injuries.