The increase in mass shootings in our country has shown us that these types of incidents can happen anytime, anywhere. Schools, grocery stores, nightclubs, and more are all possible locations for multiple-victim shootings to occur. But even though the increase in mass shootings is undeniable, the reality is that most shootings typically involve just one or two victims.
While the shooter themselves is certainly responsible for the injuries they inflict, did you know that owners of the property where the shooting occurred can also hold some legal liability if they fail to provide adequate considerations for their visitors? If you or someone you love has been the victim of a shooting, exploring the responsibilities of the property where the incident occurred may reveal a lawsuit to be filed.
Florida Shootings and Premises Liability Laws
Florida currently ranks as the state with the second-highest number of mass shootings, only behind California. Incidents like the Orlando Pulse night club shooting of 2016 have left a dark mark on the lives of many, especially in such circumstances when the perpetrator escapes the justice of standing trial for their crimes (in this instance, the shooter was shot and killed by police). In the aftermath, plaintiffs came forward to question whether the nightclub had a duty of care that was breached, thus allowing for such tragedy. More on that outcome can be found below.
When a shooting of any size or degree of severity occurs, the question of premises liability is often brought up. In Florida, property owners legally owe a duty of care to their patrons, guests, and visitors. Premises liability law looks at whether this duty of care was breached by the property owners. Duty of care means providing a safe property that is free of hazards and ensures the conditions of the property do not allow for or encourage crime to occur.
But this duty of care isn’t all-encompassing; if there is an obvious visible hazard somewhere on the property, owners are not expected to warn all visitors of it. They are also not expected to protect their guests from any risks that are simply unforeseeable or require unreasonable protection. For example, property owners cannot be held responsible for predicting when an earthquake might occur and cause harm to visitors on their property. While property owners may also not be able to reasonably predict when a shooting will occur on their premises, there are certain circumstances under which they can still be found partially responsible for allowing the shooting to happen.
Duty of Care in a Premises Liability Shooting
It can be difficult to prove that property owners should have been aware a shooting might occur. This means it can also be difficult to prove they could have taken precautions against it. To claim their liability in these types of cases, at least four points of proof are required:
- The premises owner owed a specific duty of care to the victim.
- That duty of care was breached by the premises owner.
- This breach of duty led to the victim’s shooting injury.
- The victim suffered damages due to their shooting injury.
These four points may look simple enough on paper, but definitively proving them in this step-by-step process takes precise understanding of premises liability law. For example, step number one is proving the victim was owed a duty of care, but it’s important to note that not all victims are owed the same duty of care. Patrons and invitees of the location—such as shoppers in a store or residents of an apartment complex—are legally owed more duty of care than solicitors or trespassers onto the property. A tenant in an apartment complex would be owed the highest duty of care. A delivery person dropping off a package would be owed less duty of care than the tenant. And a non-tenant breaking and entering someone’s apartment on the property would be owed the least duty of care of all.
Other Complex Factors in Shooting Cases
After duty of care is established, the outcome of many premises liability cases involving shooting victims rely on two major components: The condition of the property, and the history of the property and its patrons. These factors point to how duty of care may have been breached, and what the predictable consequences may have been.
Property owners can’t be expected to predict and prevent all crime that may occur on their property. But they can be expected to prevent further crime to the best of their abilities. Florida property owners aren’t responsible for protecting guests from all actions by third parties unless such actions are foreseeable and can be prevented by certain security measures.
In the Pulse nightclub case, lawsuits arose about whether the night club should have had more extensive security measures for its patrons, and whether this could have prevented the shooter from firing into the crowd. But because there was no previous history of shootings occurring at this location and standard security measures were upheld that night, the owners were found to have provided the reasonable duty of care they were able.
This is what makes these types of cases so difficult to argue without the help of an expert premises liability team. Legal counsel must go beyond the scope of the incident alone to also look at:
- Proven crime rate in the area.
- Any history of relevant crime on the premises.
- Examples set by well-known and similar shootings on similar properties.
- Any known history of the shooter visiting the property and their previous actions on site.
- The setup and practices of all security on the premises leading up to the incident.
If any of these factors can be proven to have had a predictable effect the shooting incident, it is reasonable to claim negligence on the part of the property owner. This negligence may hold them partially responsible for damages suffered by victims.
Consult with a Premises Liability Lawyer
If you or a loved one suffered gunshot injuries and believe the property owners where the incident took place are partially responsible, you need the guidance of an expert premises liability attorney. While filing a lawsuit against the shooter may take priority, it is always recommended to examine how the property may have played a factor in the harm you suffered. Not only does exploring this avenue help you obtain the compensation you deserve, but it may help prevent future incidents of such a nature from happening to others.
These cases are complicated, but The Whisler Law Firm knows what it takes to fight alongside you. We can help you investigate the shooting, gather police reports, establish necessary data, and claim negligent liability on behalf of the property owner. Call us at 833-529-5677 or click here to schedule your consultation with our team online. We’ll review your case for free and won’t charge you anything unless we help you win.