What happens when the weather begins to cool off up north? Tourists grab their shorts and sunglasses and flock to South Florida. Hotels fill. Rental cars clog the roadways.
Some visitors often leave one thing home when they travel: vigilance. That’s because resorts, cruise ships, bars and hotels encourage vacationers to let loose and leave their worries at home. It is the mainstay of many of the advertising campaigns.
When our tourists let their guard down, they do so in a place they have been led to believe is a safe and secure. After all, aren’t all those ads for resorts filled with happy people relaxing, partying and living the good life? So the resort must be taking care of those risks that would pose a threat to the unsuspecting visitor. Or maybe not.
Visitors are ideal targets for crime. They are unaware of their surroundings, often venture to places where locals would avoid, carry cash and valuables, and rarely return for criminal prosecutions even if the perp is caught. And we have a target-rich environment for criminals: Every day in Florida there are 240 violent crimes, including 27 forcible sexual assaults and 65 robberies.
In reality, security is an expense to hotels, malls, shopping centers, apartment complexes and cruise lines. They don’t see direct revenue from the placement of security guards, monitored video feeds, enhanced lighting, limited access, explosion-resistant barriers, or any of the many possible ways to improve security and make the premises safe.
Because negligent security cases are premises liability actions at their core, it’s always a good reminder to look at what the law requires. A property owner owes a duty of reasonable care to its visitors to maintain its property in a safe condition and to eliminate known hazards or, if the hazards cannot be eliminated, warn of them. The same law applies to hazards from violent criminal acts.
We have learned a lot from several decades of premises security litigation about how to create reasonable crime deterrence. We no longer live in a time when the presence of uniformed security is an aberration. Today’s commercial property is likely to have some security considerations, especially if the owner or business has done reasonable due diligence. Negligent security litigation provides the best financial incentive for businesses of all kinds to consider and implement security measures to protect visitors and employees. If not for the potential of a substantial verdict (and perhaps the attendant publicity), many businesses would choose not to spend on security, since it creates no direct revenue.
This is why negligent security cases are so important. Not just for the litigants, but also for society and – surprisingly - the tourism industry. Without the potential risk of this litigation, businesses would be tempted to reduce or eliminate their security budgets. There would be little incentive to spend resources on something that provides no revenue and in most cases is invisible. Yet a rash of tourism-related incidents could damage or destroy tourism. Forget the Zika scare, one only needs to recall what happened when criminals figured out that all Florida rental cars had license plates that began with “Y” or “Z.” Tourist-targeted robberies became the source of national media attention, which didn’t paint South Florida in a positive light. In some countries tourists were warned about coming to Florida. Tourism decreased and with it so did substantial revenue. That is money lost not only from the tourism behemoths but also the working people who supply resorts with their most important resource: labor.
So in a sense negligent security cases are helping support the most important element in Florida’s economy. Without tourism, the Sunshine State would be relegated to building factories that pollute, or would have to consider (gasp!) an income tax. By providing an incentive for the tourism industry – as well as all businesses – to consider and implement reasonable security, we not only help protect our visitors, we support Florida’s lifeline industry. An intended byproduct is that everyone in Florida benefits. Residents and guests are just a little safer when they walk into that hotel, mall or apartment complex when there is competent security. The state secures its largest industry and snowbirds once again flock to the warmth of our area.
John Leighton, Esq., is the founding partner of Leighton Law, P.A., a trial law firm in Miami and Orlando. Mr. Leighton is a board certified trial lawyer whose practice focuses on representing catastrophically injured victims of negligence, crime and medical mistakes. 305-347-3151. www.Leightonlaw.com. Email: John@Leightonlaw.com
South Florida Legal Guide 2016 Financial Edition