Issues and Trends in Health Care Security Litigation

Introduction

  • A lawsuit resulted in a million-dollar jury verdict against a hospital and one of its security guards. The plaintiff, a hospital visitor, sued the hospital and the security guard for assault and battery, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution.
  • Two federal lawsuits were filed in connection with an incident involving a jail inmate who took two nurses hostage, and raped, tortured and beat one of them, before being killed by a SWAT team.
  • Recently, a lawsuit was filed seeking $20 million in damages after a special needs teenager was beaten by hospital security officers.

Cases like these highlight the types of lawsuits against healthcare facilities (HCFs) that fall into the category of “negligent security.” People who are on a HCF’s property, such as patients, visitors and employees, expect to be reasonably safe. When a HCF’s security fails, and someone suffers an attack, the HCF might be held liable and have to compensate the injured person. Negligent security lawsuits can result in significant time and money expenditures for HCFs. Settlements and jury verdicts resulting from these cases can involve hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. The costs of defending against such a lawsuit can also be very significant, even if the HCF eventually wins in court.

PREMISES LIABILITY AND NEGLIGENT SECURITY

Premises liability law refers to the legal principles that hold landowners and/or occupiers responsible when someone enters onto their property and gets hurt due to a dangerous condition. In general, common law for premises liability requires an owner or occupier of a premises to correct or warn of a dangerous or defective condition on the premises that the owner/occupier knew, or reasonably should have known the existence of. Premises liability claims are usually based on negligence, although state statutes, municipal ordinances, and local building codes may also be relevant and set standards that an owner or occupier must follow.

Negligent security, also known as inadequate security, is a specific type of premises liability claim. A negligent security case arises when an individual was harmed as a result of a criminal or violent act on the property of a business, and the individual sues the business arguing that lack of security was a factor in the occurrence of the crime. A classic example of negligent security arises when someone is robbed in a hospital parking lot. Plaintiffs in negligent security cases often have incurred significant injuries, given that they involve criminal or violent acts such as assault and battery, rape, sexual assault, wrongful death, robbery, and false imprisonment.

Defendants in Negligent Security Lawsuits

Negligent security lawsuits are brought against the property owner or business, rather than the person who committed the crime or violent act. It is generally much easier to locate an owner or business than a stranger who perpetrated a crime. Damages are also more likely to be recovered from a property owner or business, which typically carries insurance against which a judgment can be enforced. In addition to the negligent security case, criminal and civil penalties can also be separately pursued against the criminal perpetrator.

Negligent security cases are often very complex and can involve several different defendants depending on the type of case and the location of the criminal act. If the incident involved security officers, the security company hired by a HCF may be a defendant. If the crime occurred in a parking lot, the HCF or manager of the parking lot may be at risk. Other parties such as the property management company or landscaping company may also be brought in as defendants.

Employers might also be at risk for negligent hiring claims, if they hired individuals who are not qualified for the job or failed to adequately train their employees. In such a case, a HCF’s security and HR directors may be required to testify regarding their selection, screening, training, and supervision of the individual whose actions led to the lawsuit.