Private Security Guard Liability in California

negligent security, personal injury, attorney, los angeles, CaliforniaPrivate security guard liability in California for personal injury or wrongful death that results from actions or inaction of the security officer depends upon a lot of circumstances.   There are literally thousands of businesses in California that use private security to protect offices, residential property, retail establishments and industrial complexes including the surrounding areas such as the common areas, parking lots or adjacent walkways where people enter or exit the property.  This is especially true in large urban areas like San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.  If the landlords or property owners hire security, they have an obligation to do so in a reasonable manner and, likewise, the security companies are obligated to discharge their duties to provide security in a reasonably prudent manner.

Legal duty of security personnel regarding business patrons

By way of the general laws of negligence and, more specifically, by contracting with a business owner to provide security services, private security guard companies have a special relationship with an affirmative duty to protect customers while those patrons are on the business premises.  Mata v. Mata (2003) 105 Cal.App.4th 1121, 1128.  In fact, California case law has held:

“It is established that business proprietors such as shopping centers, restaurants, and bars owe a duty to their patrons to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition, and that this duty includes an obligation to undertake “reasonable steps to secure common areas against foreseeable criminal acts of third parties that are likely to occur in the absence of such precautionary measures.”  Delgado v. Trax Bar & Grill (2005) 36 Cal.4th 224, 229 30 Cal.Rptr.3d 145, 147.
Moreover,  “The employer of a security guard may be liable for the guard’s assaults if the employer negligently hired the guard or negligently placed him in a position to commit foreseeable harmful acts.”  Hawkins v. Wilton (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 936, 943-44 [51 Cal.Rptr.3d 1, 5-6]
If the security personnel are employees of the business, then the owner of the business has a duty to act reasonably in hiring, training, supervising and retaining of those employees.   For example, if proper background checks are not conducted, there is inadequate training or supervision by management, or a guard is kept on despite actions that would indicate that that security person might foreseeably harm a business patron or negligently discharge their duties, liability for personal injury or wrongful death against the proprietor may lie under California law.  Likewise, if the security company is independent of the business and is hired by the business to provide safeguards, the company employing the guard must comply with all state regulations related to private security and can be held responsible if they discharge their duties in a negligent manner.
Instances where a security guard is personally responsible for assaulting a patron can do still happen such as bouncers in bars becoming overzealous, store security detaining and arresting person using excessive force or similar events.  If a customer is assaulted in the store or in the parking lot or some other area controlled by the property owner by a third party criminal, the law provides that either the security company and/or the property owner or lessee may be held responsible if prior circumstances reveal that they knew or should have known about the risks of such assaults or batteries or other criminal activity on their premises and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent it.  Such knowledge can be shown by prior criminal acts on the property or if the guard observes criminal activity but, fails to act to prevent or reduce such conduct.

The need for seeking prompt legal advice following a personal injury or wrongful death where private security was involved:

These are tough cases from a civil liability standpoint.  Evidence must be obtained to show negligence including a duty to act, the breach of that duty and that the actions or inactions were the actual and legal cause of injury or death.  For this reason, it is always advisable to seek out prompt consultation with a legal professional who is familiar with the laws and regulations in California related to private security.  A quality negligent security lawyer can conduct prompt investigations including obtaining information from eye witnesses and inspecting the scene of the incident.  Competent legal counsel can also file all appropriate civil actions in a court of law or with the appropriate authorities and conduct formal discovery including taking depositions of security personnel and management to determine what was known prior to the event in question and whether the proper procedures were in place to prevent injury or death to customers or other persons coming onto the property.  Retaining a negligent security lawyer always gives the injured party or the relatives of an individual who is killed their best chance of recovery of monetary damages.