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NJ commercial establishments must provide adequate security to patrons

In late December 2011, two young out-of-state businessmen were randomly stabbed in a New Jersey hotel when they came upon a disorderly party. One of the men, a father and husband, died from his wounds.

Inadequate security lawsuit

While the criminal proceedings stemming from the incident continue, in October 2013 the surviving victim and the family of the deceased victim filed a civil lawsuit in New Jersey state court, alleging that the hotel's owner-operators negligently provided inadequate security and protection to the plaintiffs as paying hotel guests, according to myCentralJersey.com and NJ.com.

In New Jersey, a suit based on negligent security falls into the category of "premises liability," the broad legal concept that anyone that owns or controls property must keep it reasonably safe for those lawfully on it. In commercial settings, the owner or operator of an enterprise like a hotel, store or restaurant must exercise ordinary care to keep the premises safe for patrons and customers.

Such lawsuits are also often brought against landlords for premises liability violations that cause injury to tenants or their guests on rental property.

Physical setting

The duty to keep business premises safe extends to the physical setting which must be kept in reasonable order and repair to prevent dangerous conditions on floors, sidewalks and stairs on which patrons could trip and fall. Such premises must also be kept reasonably safe through regular maintenance and repair of mechanical systems like electricity, heating, gas and so on.

In addition, the duty to provide reasonable security includes an obligation to warn commercial guests of dangers the owner or operator knows about or would know about on reasonable inspection.

Risk of crime

The duty to keep premises safe for patrons also encompasses the provision of reasonable security to prevent dangerous criminal activity that can harm guests. A New Jersey court looks at all of the relevant circumstances to determine whether an owner or operator of a commercial concern provided adequate security where a patron was the victim of crime on the premises.

For example, a court might consider whether previous criminal acts on the premises or in the neighborhood would make further crimes foreseeable such that the proprietor must take reasonable steps to protect patrons from such acts. Similarly, it may be relevant to liability whether a commercial concern reacted appropriately to requests for assistance or reports of strange events that could indicate dangerous security breaches.

Another relevant factor in assessing the overall circumstances for liability would be whether the defendant had control over the particular place of injury such as whether a business controlled a parking lot.

In a negligent security suit, the plaintiff may be able to collect money damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, punitive damages and more.

Talk to an experienced New Jersey personal injury attorney

If you or a loved one is injured in or on the premises of a store, restaurant, hotel or other commercial concern open to the public in New Jersey, speak with a knowledgeable litigation attorney about whether you should file a lawsuit based on inadequate security or on any other kind of negligent or reckless behavior on the part of those who operate or own the establishment, or on the part of any third party hired to provide security or other services.

Other legal bases may also exist for liability in such situations based upon breach of contract and more.