As discussed in the Premises Liability FAQ, “premises liability” is the responsibility of a landowner or landlord (hereafter, “landlord”) to protect invited guests from any unsafe physical conditions on the premises [431 Mass. 729 (2000), DOMINIC LUONI v. THOMAS BERUBE & another (Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Essex]. If an invited guest is injured, then the landlord must pay for those injuries. Negligent security liability is similar except that the harm that falls upon invited guests is generally instigated by a bad actor like a criminal or terrorist. Landlords are expected to protect tenants and their guests from such things if they have any reason to know that it might happen.
Who is an Invited Guest?
The actual legal term is “invitee.” If you are at a neighbor’s home for a social visit, then you are an invitee because you were quite literally invited. If you go to a grocery store to buy food, you are an invitee because that is the purpose of the store. However, if you go to a bank to rob it, you are not an invitee. If you are injured on the premises during your robbery, you are on your own.
What are Unsafe Conditions?
Most people are familiar with the typical unsafe conditions: slippery floors, icy bridges, loose electrical wires, etc. However, there are some unusual situations that constitute unsafe conditions.
For example, a young person once died when the car he was riding in crashed into a tree. The driver, another teenager, was drunk. The intoxicated driver had consumed alcohol first in a private home, then at a billiards hall. However, the teenager had acquired this alcohol on his own and brought it with him to these places. Nonetheless, the deceased boy’s parents went to court arguing that the homeowners and billiards hall owners were liable for the death on the grounds that any place where underage drinking is allowed constitutes unsafe conditions. The court disagreed. Under Massachusetts law, you are only liable for a drunk driver’s behavior if you served or furnished the alcoholic drinks yourself and you had reason to know the person whom you served was underage or already intoxicated. Drunkenness or alcoholic consumption are not unsafe conditions like accumulated snow or a poorly lit parking lot.
If a landlord allows criminal behavior on their premises and that criminal behavior harms you as a tenant or guest, the landlord may be liable for “negligent security.” The law puts a duty on the landlord to implement security measures to protect invitees when the landlord has reason to believe such measures may be necessary. Put simply, the landlord must do what he or she can to avert foreseeable harms. This is most often violated when a crime has been committed on the premises and a failure to act results in a second similar crime.
There is no well-defined set of security measures that is guaranteed to satisfy the law. Instead, juries are tasked with the responsibility to determine, based on the principles, whether a landlord did a good enough job. If you have fallen victim to a crime on premises where you should have been safe, please call Peter Ventura, attorney for Worcester County, Massachusetts, at 508-755-7535 for a free case evaluation.