Strange as it is to think about, unless you own a home, you spend 100% of your time on property owned and controlled by someone else. Even homeowners must regularly venture into businesses, schools, and other spaces where they have no say in the security measures taken to protect them. Some people try not to think too much about the danger of falling victim to violent crime. Others develop a general wariness of other people, or of specific neighborhoods, without realizing how much more predictable and localized the danger often is, or how simple some of the causes can be.
Criminology studies have shown that high concentrations of crime are not endemic to specific neighborhoods nearly so much as they are to specific sites — areas as small as a single business or housing complex. These sites are determined by a confluence of factors, but one of the crucial, make-or-break ingredients for a high crime location is absent, ineffective, or negligent management. Interestingly, competent management of a location has been shown to deter crime not only on the premises themselves, but in the neighborhood as a whole, rather than displacing the location’s share of crime into the surrounding area as one might guess.
What does all this mean when it comes to preventing and addressing wrongful deaths from criminal violence? It means that a huge portion of the power and responsibility for preventing these deaths rests on the shoulders of landlords, managers, and security companies. These individuals and corporate entities typically stay in business by racking up a good deal of experience deflecting blame and taking advantage of the public misconception that crime unavoidably “just happens.”
At The Stoddard Firm, we are committed to using our own considerable experience to overcome that misconception and hold accountable those who enable and profit off of violent crime.
What Is a Wrongful Death?
By legal definition, a “wrongful” death is more than just an untimely death. It’s a death caused by the negligent or criminal actions of another person. When a wrongful death occurs, the surviving spouse can sue for the “full value of the life of the decedent.” Obviously, there’s no accurate way of placing a dollar value on a human life, but the potential lifetime earnings of the deceased are often used as a jumping off point. When there is no surviving spouse, the right to sue falls to the children of the deceased, and when there are no surviving children, an executor of the estate will need to be appointed to sue on behalf of the next of kin. That can be a lot to take in during a time of shock and grieving, but the Stoddard Firm can help you navigate the requirements smoothly.
There’s a temptation, when a tragedy occurs, to try to assign blame to a single source. However, multiple parties can be at fault for a wrongful death, as is often the case in scenarios involving inadequate or negligent security. For example, in a case where a hotel’s inadequate security allowed a man to hold two women and four children prisoner in his room, resulting in the starvation and death of one of the children, the man was found 60% liable for the child’s death, and the hotel 30% liable. The difference is that the ruling against the man, who is now serving life in prison, is mostly symbolic and uncollectable, while the ruling against the hotel will actually go toward supporting the mother in her recovery, and can serve as a warning to other complicit or indifferent hotel owners.
Certain Businesses Encourage Their Own Patterns of Crime
In September of 2018, a Bosnian War concentration camp survivor was shot and killed in a Walmart parking lot in Gwinnett County, and his wife has brought a wrongful death suit against Walmart for failing to address its long-standing inadequate security. On its own, the man’s death might seem like a random tragedy, but these kinds of incidents at Walmart locations are so disproportionately common it’s become a bad joke. In Georgia specifically, just five months earlier, two men shot and killed each other in another Walmart parking lot in Cobb County.
Throughout the country, violent crimes in Walmarts happen at a rate of more than one per day, with most locations having crime rates drastically higher anywhere else in their surrounding areas. That’s not just a function of being a high-traffic department store; in one side-by-side comparison in Texas, a city’s Walmart produced over 2,000 calls to 911 in a year, while the Target location in the same city produced just 300 the same year. Police department attitudes toward the company go from exasperation to a joking acknowledgement of the convenience of having “all [the] bad guys in one place.”
Much of the problem seems to date back to an aggressive cost-cutting campaign in 2000, during which Walmart cut back its workforce to the point of having only one worker for every 524 square feet of retail space. That’s workers of any kind, not even security personnel in particular. Instead of taking responsibility as the rich goliath of a company that it is, Walmart instead pushes the expense for customer and employee safety onto the publically funded local police. As a practice, it’s not so different from the way the same company pushes the expense for its employees’ basic needs onto public programs, by paying many of them so little that they’re forced to rely on food stamps even while working full-time. The result of Walmart’s policy of maintaining inadequate security is higher profits, at the cost of lives.
These kinds of negligent security policies are not limited to retail giants, however. One Atlanta nightclub was the site of a shooting that left two dead and two wounded in 2017. This would also seem to be a freak occurrence, were it not almost identical to another shooting that occurred in the same nightclub, under the same management, but at a previous location. After the nightclub’s move, five homicides were reported within a quarter mile of its new location the same year as the second shooting. There were no homicides at all within a quarter mile of its vacated location that year, a typical case of crime clustering at a business itself, rather than its area.
Hotels and Apartment Complexes Are Common Offenders
In a dynamic reminiscent of Walmart in other cities, the Norcross Police Department found in 2016 that one third of all major crime in the city was taking place in its 14 hotels and motels. The city passed new ordinances to combat the problem with debatable success, but that clustering of crime is just a symptom of the long tradition of certain hotels turning a blind eye to crime in general, for the sake of cultivating and profiting off of a criminal clientele.
Similarly to hotels, apartment complexes also vary between locations where management works to deter crime, and locations where management welcomes it or takes no action at all, with night-and-day differences in safety. In the latter type of complex, corrupt or neglectful landlords will often try to shift the blame onto victims when a tragedy occurs. Other business owners do this as well, but apartment complex landlords are especially able to cause additional harm in the process, because tenants rely on them for shelter. For example, in 2018, a woman was struck in the face by a bullet fired somewhere outside her new Decatur apartment while she was napping on the couch. Amazingly, she survived, but was promptly evicted for the “prohibited conduct” of getting shot.
Sometimes Security Companies and Personnel Are Part of the Problem
The simplest way for a business to better ensure people’s safety is often to install security equipment or hire security guards. It’s not enough, however, to install or hire just any security without proper vetting. Sometimes entrusting security to the lowest bidder can be worse than no security at all.
Case in point, in a Norcross nightclub in 2017, a security guard opened fire into a crowded parking lot, killing a 19-year-old and wounding a bystander in the leg. Upon his arrest, police discovered what a simple background check would have revealed: the guard was a convicted rapist who legally should not have had a gun at all, let alone been employed to wield one in a position of authority.
Usually, a little more care on the part of businesses and premise owners can solve the problem, but in some cases, inadequate security conditions are directly caused by the companies that supposedly exist for the purpose of keeping people safe. Security companies are businesses too, after all, and just as prone to cutting corners to pad the bottom line as any other industry.
In north Fulton County, also in 2017, no fewer than 39 separate home security alarm companies had their registrations revoked for failure to pay fines for false alarms. The city of Sandy Springs had passed a local ordinance imposing these fines due to a high volume of alarm calls — 135 in a one-week period in March of 2017 — 100% of which turned out to be false. This drain on public police resources, caused by the policies of a for-profit industry, eventually had to be declared a public safety hazard. Rather than paying the fines or altering their operations to improve alarm accuracy, these 39 companies allowed the situation to deteriorate to the point where the local police department ceased responding to their calls, leaving customers with useless equipment and services.
The Stoddard Firm Has the Experience You Need on Your Side
Because so few people realize the role business policies play in violent crime, there’s often a bias against holding business owners responsible for the actions of criminals on their properties. In Cobb County in 2015, a 27-year-old man was carjacked and fatally shot in the parking lot of his apartment complex. Car thefts were common in the area, and the apartment complex had recently cut off security guard services, while keeping off-duty police patrols down to minimal and irregular schedule. Multiple requests and recommendations by both residents and police for better security had been ignored, and yet a jury almost unanimously dismissed the wrongful death case of the victim’s wife and mother.
At The Stoddard Firm, we’ve made it our mission to change that narrative by explaining the realities of crime-enablement to juries in truthful, understandable terms, and going above and beyond to make sure justice is done. In one particularly extreme case out of many, we had the honor of fighting for the surviving family of a 15-year-old boy who was shot dead in a DeKalb County complex called Creekside Forest Apartments, where a non-functioning gate was just the tip of the negligent security iceberg. According to former employees of the owner, the security guards were taking a cut of drug sales on the property, and had been specifically instructed to protect the building, but not the people in it. In that case, the defendant fled and had to be tracked down, even though none of the residents knew his real name. It ended with a settlement for $3 million.
What to Do If You’ve Lost Someone to Negligent or Inadequate Security
The death of a loved one has a profound impact on survivors’ lives, even under the most natural and expected of circumstances. The time immediately following a sudden, violent loss is especially difficult, but for the sake of keeping your options open and protecting potential future victims, it’s important to act quickly. Be sure to file a complete police report right away, and as soon as you feel safe doing so, gather any documentation you can of the circumstances that allowed the death to occur. Then, reach out to an expert like those at The Stoddard Firm. We’re standing by at 678-RESULT, or our online chat function, to discuss your options in a completely free consultation.