Interesting questions are presented in cases in which a security guard is negligent, leading to personal injuries or even death. Is the guard responsible for intentional misconduct by another person? In a recent case, a woman was murdered at her home in a gated community by a burglar. The community was a six-street neighborhood that was surrounded by a golf course and a lake. Guards were stationed there 24-hours a day. While one guard stayed at the guardhouse, the other moved around the property in a vehicle.
At the time of the murder, the patrolling guard was supposed to be continuously patrolling, checking into various checkpoints to show he was patrolling appropriately. The police caught the murderer. In his sworn confession, he said he had entered the community by bicycle on an open pedestrian path. He didn’t know the victim before that night. He saw there was a small open window and cut the screen from that window. Although the screen had security wires, the alarm company had improperly installed the alarm, so the alarm didn’t go off.
The murderer was stealing credit cards and other things, and ran into the victim. He strangled her. The estate and the alarm company settled. At trial, the estate proceeded against the security service. The estate’s expert testified that “continuously” meant that the guard should have been moving continually. The guard had failed to do that based on data from the checkpoints.
The security company’s vice president testified similarly that the checkpoints were to audit the movement of the roving guard and that the roving guard was supposed to check in at east checkpoint at regular intervals. The guard was only supposed to stop moving if he had to record an incident or saw something suspicious. The guard did not check in anywhere during the two hour block in which the victim was murdered. This was clearly against the security company’s expectations.
The estate’s experts testified that they thought the guard’s failure to patrol during a two hour block permitted the impulsive burglary and subsequent murder. They testified the murderer had the profile of someone who would have been deterred by the roving guard.
The security service’s expert testified that contrary to its own vice president, the instruction to patrol continuously meant intermittent movement. He also testified that it meant nothing that the guard hadn’t checked into the checkpoint system for two hours and that the murderer was not able to be deterred because he had already targeted the victim.
The jury found the security service and the alarm company to be equally at fault, awarding a little under $5 million. The security service moved for a new trial. The motion was denied.
The security company appealed. It argued that the weight of the evidence did not support the jury’s finding that there was a breach of duty by the security service. The two-hour window ran from 1:00 a.m. when the murderer first saw the open window to 3:00 a.m. when the murderer climbed through the window. The appellate court explained that the jury might have paid particular attention to the fact that the guard didn’t patrol from 1-1:35a.m. and disappeared from the checkpoint system from 2:29 a.m.-4:19 a.m.
The security service argued that the use of checkpoints wasn’t required by the guard and the security service and that, therefore, evidence about the checkpoint was irrelevant. The appellate court explained that under Florida law, a party’s violation of its own internal policies can be evidence of negligence.
The appellate court also explained that in Florida, courts require proof that the negligence probably caused a plaintiff’s injury, or, in this case, death. Where a plaintiff presents enough evidence for the jury to find a perpetrator gained entry in such a way that could have been detected or stopped if the breach in security hadn’t happened, negligence will be found. The appellate court affirmed the judgment.
If you are seriously hurt or a loved one is killed due to somebody else’s negligence, contact the knowledgeable Florida personal injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.
Birth Injuries and Medical Negligence in Florida, August 8, 2013
Work that Creates Exceptional Risk and Causes Death in Florida, September 10, 2013
Settlement Offers in Florida, September 24, 2013