In the wake of a pair of fatal shootings – one at a singer’s autograph session and the other at a local nightclub – many pundits and observers will blame gun control laws, individual bias, international terrorism, and a host of other causes. From a purely legal standpoint, the venue owners may have been liable for these tragedies.

In one incident, 27-year-old Kevin Loibl, of St. Petersburg, allegedly shot and killed pop singer Christina Grimmie at a Plaza Live-hosted meet-and-greet. The club had two unarmed security guards that checked bags at the entrance, but according to police and witnesses, Mr. Loibl lied in wait until Ms. Grimmie exited the club to mingle with fans. Ms. Grimmie was pronounced dead at a local hospital after the incident, Mr. Loibl allegedly shot and killed himself during a scuffle with Ms. Grimmie’s brother Marcus.

Two days later, 29-year-old Omar Mateen allegedly killed 49 people, and wounded 53 others, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The facts are still a bit unclear, but between one and three armed security guards engaged Mr. Mateen before he entered the club and failed to stop him. Former CIA Agent Mike Baker, who now operates his own security company, opined that Mr. Mateen took advantage of security loopholes to enter the club.

The investigations are still ongoing.

Premises Liability

Landowners have a duty of care to protect invitees, which are people who are on the land because of the landowner’s express or implied invitation. Ms. Grimmie was clearly an invitee, so the club had a duty to keep her safe.

This duty includes reasonable security. For example, if a victim is attacked in a dark apartment hallway or hotel parking lot, the owner may be legally responsible. In a hypothetical lawsuit based on the above facts, Ms. Grimmie’s personal representative could argue that the security protocols in place were too weak to adequately protect the singer.

The club would have a number of defenses, including:

  • The security screening was reasonable based on the facts available at the time this measure was put in place,
  • A possibly deranged shooter is not a foreseeable harm, and
  • Depending on the circumstances, such as the event’s timing and location, the club may have had no legal obligation to provide security at the meet-and-greet.

The plaintiff has the burden of proof to show that the security measures were unreasonably weak and that this failure caused the wrongful death, in both a factual and legal sense.

Third Party Crimes

In Florida, if the victim was an invitee, landowners have a duty to protect against foreseeable third-party crimes, and a nightclub shooting may be a foreseeable third-party crime, especially if the incident occurs at a same-sex nightclub or other place that a person may single out.

According to Hall v. Billy Jack’s (1984) and other Florida Supreme Court cases, to demonstrate foreseeability, the plaintiff must show that there were other similar crimes in the area which occurred a short time earlier. The earlier shooting incident may serve as a qualifying event, though it is difficult to tell.

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