Under New Jersey law, businesses have a duty to make their premises reasonably safe for their customers and that includes taking reasonable steps to protect customers from foreseeable criminal activity. This principle applies to all New Jersey businesses such as:
- shopping malls,
- retail stores,
- parking lots,
- grocery stores,
- gas stations, and
- business offices.
In the majority of cases involving negligent security and criminal activity, the main issue is whether there was reasonably foreseeable criminal activity. A customer or patron who suffers injury due to criminal activity will have to show that 1. there was prior criminal activity and 2. the owner or operator of the premises had notice or should have had notice of such activity.
Proving prior criminal activity means working with the local police department to find records of all criminal activity at or near the premises. There is no requirement that there be prior criminal activity on the premises, itself. The business owner or operator could still be liable if there was high crime in the immediate area prior to the incident.
Proving that the owner or operator of the business had notice is much more involved and depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. Relevant factors include:
- whether there was actual criminal activity on the premises,
- proximity to other businesses such as liquor stores or pawn shops,
- whether there was any prior criminal activity in close proximity to the premises,
- whether the business itself had been subject to crimes like robberies or thefts, and
- prior complaints by other customers or employees.
See Clohesy v. Food Circus Supermarkets (1997 New Jersey Supreme Court), upholding a claim against a grocery store for a customer’s murder where in the 2.5 years prior to the incident, there were 60 reports of criminal incidents at or near the grocery store.
Under New Jersey law, in situations where there is suspected criminal activity, businesses are not necessarily required to provide security guards. What actions a business takes to protect customers from reasonably foreseeable criminal activity will depend on the circumstances and layout of the store and parking lot. Providing warning signs, security cameras, adequate lighting or security guards are some steps that may be needed, again, depending on the circumstances. A business’ failure to provide such security measures to protect customers from reasonably foreseeable criminal activity may subject them to liability in a situation where a customer is attacked by a criminal.
Proper investigation by a knowledgeable New Jersey business liability lawyer is important to ensure maximum recovery for the injured victim and their family.
To submit your case for review by our New Jersey business liability lawyers, call Click To Call. Our lawyers are available for a free, no obligation legal consultation, and can obtain special admission in other states, such as New York or Delaware, on a case by case basis.
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