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Orlando Shootings Create Liability Questions

Did inadequate security at two area nightclubs contribute to the deaths of an estimated fifty people, and if so, are the landowners legally responsible for damages?

In one incident, a 27-year-old man allegedly shot and killed a 22-year-old singer as she met with fans following an appearance at a local dance club. According to police and witnesses, there were two unarmed guards at the door who screened bags for contraband, but there was no additional security. This man apparently lied in wait for the singer; indeed, he waited until after the concert to accost her. After the man allegedly shot her at near point-blank range, he allegedly shot and killed himself in an ensuing scuffle; the woman was rushed to a nearby hospital, where she was subsequently pronounced dead.

Three days later, a 29-year-old man allegedly fought his way past three armed security guards at another local nightclub before killing 49 people, wounding 53 others, and holding an unknown number of hostages; police officers shot and killed the man in the ensuing gun battle. One observer, who is a former CIA agent and current private security consultant, suggested that the alleged shooter may have watches the club for several days and eventually exploited a gap in the security protocol.

The first nightclub had no comment about the incident; the second club’s owner said the attack “devastated” her.

Landowner Liability

If the victim is an invitee, meaning that the landlord extended a direct or indirect invitation, the owner must make the premises reasonably safe, and this duty includes sufficient security. The first above-described incident raises questions in this area, and in a hypothetical lawsuit, the claimants could argue that the nightclub did not have adequate security in place, and that more aggressive security could have prevented the shooting.

The club could raise a number of defenses, chief among them is that the security protocol seemed reasonable under the circumstances at the time it was put in place. The club could also argue that an armed gunman at a concert was not a foreseeable risk. Finally, depending on the facts, the club may not have even had a duty to provide security at the meet-and-greet.

Liability for Third Party Crimes

In most states, a third-party crime, like a shooting, is an independent intervening cause that breaks the chain of foreseeability and excuses otherwise negligent behavior. But in Florida, the landowner is liable for damages if the third-party crime was foreseeable. According to Allen v. Babrab, Inc., a Florida Supreme Court case from 1983, the court may consider:

  • Geographical proximity of prior similar crimes,
  • Temporal relationship between the prior crime(s) and the case at bar, and
  • Any factual similarities.

Under this analysis, a jury could conclude that the second incident was foreseeable, since the earlier shooting occurred in the same town only a few days earlier. If the jury so finds, the club would be liable for the victims’ economic damages, like lost wages, and noneconomic damages, like emotional distress. The deceased victims’ families could file wrongful death actions and obtain similar compensation.

Partner with Aggressive Attorneys

Landowners may be liable if their guests are injured. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. We routinely handle cases in Lucie County and all along the Treasure Coast.

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