Rogers Towers: Companies: What duty do you have to protect your customers from criminal attacks while on your property?

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[author: L. Javan Grant]

You own a business. During the holiday season a customer comes in your store and is physically assaulted and robbed by a third party. Are you, as the landowner, responsible? The answer: It depends on whether the criminal attack was foreseeable.

If someone enters your business to purchase materials (food, clothing, electronics, etc), they are considered an invitee in Florida. An owner of a premises owes the following duties to an invitee: (1) to use reasonable care in keeping and maintaining the premises in a reasonably safe condition; and (2) to give the invitee warning of concealed perils which are known or should be known to the landowner, and which are unknown to the invitee and cannot be discovered by him through the exercise of due care. Generally, a landowner has no duty to protect an invitee from criminal attacks occurring on its property by a person over whom the landowner has no control. An exception to this rule is if the criminal attack was foreseeable. 

Foreseeability can be established by showing that the landowner had actual or constructive knowledge of prior similar acts committed upon invitees on the premises; by showing that the landowner had specific knowledge of the dangerous propensities of a specific assailant who is on the property; or by showing that the landowner knew or should have recognized the likelihood, based on past experience, of disorderly conduct by third persons in general which might endanger the safety of its invitees. In layman terms: Have there been other similar attacks on the property? If so, how many? How many other times has this particular person done the same or similar act while on the property? Did something happen before the attack that should have tipped you, landowner, off that something criminal was about the happen and you failed to intervene and stop it? All of the above will be considered in determining whether the attack was foreseeable.

In short, while the law generally recognizes that a landowner owes no duty to an invitee to protect against criminal attacks by third persons, a duty will be recognized if the circumstances show that the attack was foreseeable.