|Posted on February 6, 2020 at 3:05 PM|
“WAS CUTTING CORNERS THE PROXIMATE CAUSE OF YOUR PREMISES SECURITY CASE?”
By Andrew P. Sutor
Sad to say, we live in dangerous times, especially when venturing outside of our homes and residences to engage in necessary commerce and participate in the general "pursuit of happiness." Unfortunately, and far too often, people fall victim to violence, crime, or serious injury while doing so. The significant threats of post 9-11 terrorism and spate of mass shootings throughout the land raise the contemporary risk to even more heightened levels.
Innocent victims are forced to seek legal redress and compensation for their loss through their attorneys. Most of the elements of these cases are patently obvious: serious damage was done, a likely breach of the legal duty and moral obligation of defendants to provide for a minimum standard of care for their customers, patrons, and guests. The question is, how does counsel prove proximate cause and negligence in the case?
In order to bring a premises security case to a successful conclusion, plaintiffs' attorneys need to establish the actual level of, and foreseeability of risk at the time and place of their occurrence. The level of prior crime on and near the property is needed to determine the level of risk that was present.
Once that is established, attorneys need to make their case around the evidence that the defendant's security measures in the face of that risk were inadequate or unreasonable. A competent expert in the security field can determine the level of risk and whether, or not, the security provided by the defendant was adequate and reasonable.
Unfortunately, experience has shown that many defendants in negligent security cases often have a vested interest in under-reporting crime and minimizing the actual risk to the public mainly because reasonable and proper security performed by professionals is quite expensive.
Sadly, many defendants “cut corners” when it comes to security budgets and adequate security staffing. Because of a profit motive they willfully ignore the true threat to guest safety and security and fail to provide adequate and reasonable security to address that foreseeable risk. Unfortunately, this practice is widespread and pervasive within the hospitality industry. At times multi-billion-dollar entities engage in this shortsighted and reckless behavior in an attempt to increase margins and profits. This grossly negligent behavior goes to the heart of negligent security matters when it comes to the proximate cause of your client’s injuries.
In order to illustrate, please consider an insider’s perspective. Several decades ago, I was a senior executive for the world’s largest hotel company at the time and the current largest casino gaming company now. We had regular planning and budgeting meetings focusing on revenues and expenses. Security was always an expense line item with no short-term revenue implications. We took a close look at competitors in the industry and determined that between 2 & 3% of revenues was the standard to measure the costs of the security and surveillance departments. In the never-ending quest for higher margins, profits, and executive bonuses, the rule of the day was to cut security and then cut some more.
Unfortunately, while cutting the “fat” in the security budgets was easy to do, cutting the “bone” soon followed in the quest for higher margins. The end result was “Abatement of Security” meaning that an entity once had reasonable security but abandoned it “to save a buck.”
It was quite obvious to this expert in the Mandalay Bay mass murder case in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, that both the security and the response time to the evil shooter Paddock was grossly inadequate.
As a result, fifty-nine people died and hundreds more horribly injured.
It seems that the larger the entity the more the focus is on profits. For example, in the case of the potential defendants in the recent Cielo Vista Mall massacre in El Paso Texas, Wal-Mart had corporate revenues of more than $500,000,000,000.00 that year. The mall landlord, the Simon Property Group, enjoyed profit margins North of 50%. Did they expend 2 or 3% of that to provide for reasonable security for their lawful business guests? Apparently not. We need their operating budgets to prove the point. It is a likely bet that they did not hit the 1% mark, even in these dangerous times of terrorism and mass shootings. The capable El Paso Police Chief, Greg Allen, reports that the mall cut back on paid off-duty police coverage prior to the dastardly attack perpetrated at 2 PM on Saturday, August 3, 2019.
Inasmuch as the Cielo Vista Mall was located in close proximity to the dangerous “Red Zone” it can be argued that perhaps even more than 3% of revenues should have been allocated to protect the innocent. In any event, according to the pyramid of risk security standards, at least two armed guards should have been present at the time of the massacre. A couple of armed off-duty El Paso police officers employed at the mall could have made a big difference in the tragic outcome.
Andrew P. Sutor is a Principal at Sutor & Associates, LLC, which provides professional security consultation and expert witness services for law firms and attorneys pursuing premises liability and negligent security cases. Feel free to contact him for a complimentary consultation concerning the matter before your office. He can be reached at [email protected] or 609.822.2626.
Categories: Premises Security Cases