Faulty Doors Can Leave You in a Legal Jam

Aug. 5, 2010
Learn how faulty or damaged door hardware can turn into a personal injury liability case against you.

When businesses invite the public onto their premises, the law recognizes a distinct relationship. This relationship imposes a duty on building owners and managers to protect members of the public from harm on their property, whether caused by negligence or by intentional, criminal acts. Facility managers are in the best position to guard against a property’s risk and prevent liability lawsuits.

Why You Are Liable
Inadequate security cases usually involve criminal assaults, such as robberies and sexual assaults, at commercial premises, including office buildings, malls, hotels, apartments, parking garages, and even school dormitories. The law governing these cases is derived from the general principle that those who own or possess property have a duty to protect users from accidental, negligent, and intentional acts of third parties. Owners are also obligated to provide adequate warning or protection against such potential risks.

Premises liability can come into play in incidents involving violent crime assaults due to negligent security, insufficient lighting, dangerous products, faulty or damaged door hardware, and many other causes. Faulty or damaged door hardware compromises the point of entry into your premises, allowing entry to uninvited individuals who could potentially commit a crime and, at worse, harm another individual. The hardware in question could be as crucial as the locking mechanism on a door opened via a key card, such as in a hotel room.

Faulty or damaged door hardware can lead to negligent security lawsuits for a variety of reasons:

  • Malfunctioning or broken locking mechanisms
  • Improper maintenance or inspection of door hardware
  • Incomplete or non-existent policies and procedures for maintenance and inspection of door hardware
  • Personnel who did not follow maintenance/inspection policies and procedures, or who were improperly trained
  • Absent or inadequate warning of guests on the property as to the compromised security due to faulty or damaged door hardware

Taken to Court
In hotels, schools, dormitories and apartments (or any business that involves innkeeping), key control is a vital aspect of security. The consequences of not maintaining properly functioning door hardware can be tragic and costly. According to a study by Liability Consultants Inc., the average settlement in a rape security case is $600,000, and the average verdict in the same type of case is $1.75 million. The average verdict for an assault in a hotel or motel is $254,850, with 25 percent totaling $1 million or more.

Most negligent security cases will turn to the issue of foreseeability: Was the incident reasonably foreseeable by the owner or business? If the owner or manager was aware that door hardware was faulty or damaged, it is easily arguable that they were aware that entry into the premises by uninvited parties was foreseeable. If they were unaware, then why? Was the job of maintenance outsourced to another company?

In cases involving innkeepers (hotel/motel owners or managers), providing security is a non-delegable duty. These businesses can hire a security guard or security company, but they are still on the hook in terms of liability. The actual performance of security duties can be delegated, but not the legal responsibility. In most cases, the duty of care is owed by the party in control of the property.

John Elliott Leighton is a Board Certified Trial Lawyer, author of Litigating Premises Security Cases and Managing Partner of Leighton Law, P.A.

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