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Atlanta Office Sees Rise in Post-COVID Premises Liability Cases

One specific area of premises liability litigation involves negligent security at large venues where crowds gather for events.

Concerts, movies, theatrical performances, athletic events, conventions, food festivals: All of these events and more are a part of life in the U.S. Without them, our quality of life might seem a little dull, as the COVID pandemic showed in a very real and all too challenging way.

But as important as these events are to our way of life, the stark reality is that they have increasingly become targets for mass shootings and other acts of violence, committed by individuals indiscriminately and with the intent to harm as many people as possible. Acts of mass violence have become more frequent, they have grown deadlier, and their impact has become broader and deeper than ever.

We know what can happen when just one armed individual enters a venue packed with people. We will never forget the horrifying consequences of the 2015 San Bernardino shooting that killed 14 people and injured 22: the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando that killed 49 people and wounded 53 others; and the 2017 Las Vegas Mandalay Bay Hotel shooting that claimed 60 lives and injured 411.

Mandatory shutdowns and quarantines during the COVID pandemic seemed to bring much of these acts of mass violence to a halt. But now, as businesses reopen and customers return to movie theaters, concerts, sporting events, and festivals, the risk of these violent attacks also rises.

With this growing risk comes the responsibility for business owners to protect their customers — and by extension, themselves — by taking reasonable precautions to prevent foreseeable harm. Failure to do so could result in catastrophe.

Premises Liability Lawsuits and Mass Shootings

Parker Miller, Beasley Allen’s lead premises liability lawyer in Atlanta, has litigated many negligent security cases, including cases involving mass shootings. He explained, “Churches, concerts, nightclubs, sporting events, festivals, conventions, and movie theatres all have one key thing in common – they have all been targeted for mass shootings, and many people have died as a result.”

Parker continued by explaining that the first step to combating the threat of mass shootings is acknowledging that they still exist. “Before the COVID pandemic, mass shootings occurred so frequently that we lost count. Taking common-sense measures — frisking, metal detectors, onsite security, cameras, lighting, enforced policies and procedures, training, and awareness — can make all the difference between a safe and enjoyable event and one that ends in horrifying violence. Many of these security measures can be implemented at no cost, while the rest are surprisingly inexpensive.”

Parker is currently litigating a premises liability case involving a mass shooting at a concert in Atlanta, Georgia. Multiple shots were fired in a crowded venue. Two of our clients were murdered, and others were shot as well. Parker says what may appear as seemingly random acts of violence are “entirely preventable:”

Certainly, when you can entertain tens, hundreds, or thousands of guests at the same time, there is an opportunity to make lots of money. There is nothing wrong with making a lot of money in your given profession, but with that great reward comes immense responsibility to protect your customers. They are counting on you.

Foreseeability in Negligent Security Cases

Many states have premises liability and negligent security laws that obligate premises owners to take reasonable measures to protect customers from foreseeable harm. Foreseeability is a key issue in premises liability cases involving negligent security.

There was a time when courts normally found the actions of mass shooters to be unforeseeable because such incidents were rare and unexpected. That’s not to say they didn’t occur at all; they were so remote that essentially no jurors could reasonably find that a business owner should have foreseen them.

Sadly, this isn’t the case any longer. Property owners and business owners have been held liable for mass shootings due to negligent security in more and more cases over the last decade. Courts largely ruled against plaintiffs in premises liability cases involving mass shootings until 2012, when an individual set off tear gas inside an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater before opening fire on customers. The shooting killed 12 and wounded 70. A lawsuit filed in the aftermath of that shooting resulted in a court opinion that mass shootings had become more foreseeable in public venues by then. Ultimately the plaintiffs’ case was unsuccessful, but signs of a shift in the foreseeability issue continued to show in subsequent premises liability cases.

Fire and Premises Liability Claims

Shootings, sexual assault, beatings, and other violent crimes account for many premises liability cases involving negligent security, but other safety threats, such as fire-related issues and events, can provide the basis for a lawsuit.

“Mass shootings get a lot of attention, and they certainly should, but a fire-related event in a crowded room can be absolutely catastrophic,” Parker Miller explains. “Business owners have to be aware of these threats and take the right precautions. Following state and federal regulations, conducting frequent vulnerability assessment inspections, and making exits available and clearly marked are critical to mitigating loss of life if a fire breaks out.”

Beasley Allen’s Premises Liability Lawyers Can Help You

Whatever the issue at hand, premises liability lawyers still face a steep battle in litigating cases involving negligent security. If you have a case you would like us to help with, call us to discuss a co-counsel arrangement. In addition to more than 80 lawyers, our firm employs a staff of more than 200 other professionals, including full-time nurses, investigators, computer specialists, technologists, and a marketing department – all of whom will back your case with time, expertise, and experience. Many of our premises liability cases underscore the cooperative relationship between our firm and other firms and demonstrate how our combined resources and strength can work for the client’s benefit.

Premises Liability

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