Many people are surprised to learn that if you are a victim of a crime committed by a stranger on someone else’s property, the owner of the property can be held liable for failing to provide adequate security. Anna Burgese, a guest at an upmarket Miami Beach hotel was attacked and beaten in January when a group of prostitutes mistakenly thought she was a competitor. The violent incident took place in the hotel lobby, apparently unprovoked.
The hotel security staff did not detain the attackers, and instead escorted them out to a taxi that was waiting outside. Ms. Burgese was taken to hospital for treatment of her injuries. She has filed a lawsuit against the group that owns the hotel, under premises liability law.
When can the premises owner be held responsible for the results of a crime?
Under Florida law, a property owner has a duty to protect an invitee against a reasonably foreseeable criminal attack. There are two critical elements you need to be able to demonstrate:
- You were an invitee. Florida law classifies non-owner occupants of a property as invitees, licensees and trespassers. A landowner is only under a duty to protect invitees against third party crimes. Regarding licensees and trespassers, a landowner is only required not to intentionally cause them harm. You are an invitee and you are on the property by invitation, in order to conduct business with the property owner, for social reasons, or for a purpose for which the property is open to the public.
- The harm was reasonably foreseeable. The property owner is only expected to warn you and provide security against crimes that are reasonably foreseeable. Florida courts have understood foreseeability in a number of ways, but if the crime is committed by a person known to have criminal intention and inclination, it is normally considered foreseeable. Some courts also accept evidence of prior crimes at the location as cause for the property owner to be liable.
In Ms. Burgese’s case, as a guest of the hotel, she is almost certainly to be regarded as an invitee. As regards foreseeability, she claims that the hotel has permitted prostitutes to solicit for business on the premises, and that they have become violent with guests on previous occasions. Whether Ms. Burgese is to succeed in her claim remains to be seen.
If you have suffered property damage or been hurt by a criminal attack while on another person’s property, you may be entitled to compensation. Make an appointment with an experienced Manatee County premises liability lawyer for more information.