While a third party like a school district or a patron in a bar can be liable for the violent actions of another student or customer, liability often will turn on the issue of whether the third party’s actions were reasonable foreseeable. Intentional criminal acts by a third party sometimes are determined to be a “superseding cause” that cuts off the liability of another entity in the causal change that leads to injury. However, a third party’s criminal conduct typically will not provide a basis for imposing liability unless the criminal conduct is reasonably foreseeable. Our Florida traumatic brain injury attorneys recognize that this can be an important issue in premises liability lawsuits involving injuries occurring to patrons in bars, students attacked at school, or the sexual assault of a customer in the parking lot of a bank.
Our premises liability lawyers offer a recent decision in the California case, Carter v. Kern High School District, as an example of the circumstances that can warrant the liability of a property owner for the violent criminal act of a third party. At the time of the brutal attack in this case, the student wore a chicken suit to a high school prep rally to make fun of a rival school. Shortly after donning the costume, the plaintiff was brutally attacked by two other students. When the victim goes to a school administrator (the school activities director) to beg off wearing the costume again, he is threatened with the cost of reimbursement of the $75 fee for the rental. During the succeeding rally, other classmates dogpile the student while kicking, hitting, and punching him. Because the rally was to include a “mock fight,” no school faculty members took any steps to intervene and stop the attack.
The student suffered a damaged pituitary gland and severe traumatic brain injury that necessitated a six-month stay in a treatment center for brain injuries. He was unable to participate in his senior year of high school, and he could only watch as other students moved on to college. The student was predicted to incur $5 million in lifetime medical costs, the need to take growth hormones for the rest of his life, and severe cognitive deficits. The brain injury would force the student to participate in ongoing therapy and attend special education classes.
In considering the issue of foreseeability, the court considered two separate grounds for finding that the attack was reasonably foreseeable for the school board. First, the school administrator twisted the arm of the student to put the costume back on despite the prior attack on the student. Evidence reportedly revealed through testimony and court documents also indicated that a similar incident had occurred a few years before. In the prior incident, a teacher at the school wore the same costume and experienced a severe attack that resulted in broken ribs, broken bones, long-term shoulder injuries, and a torn bicep. Based on these two prior incidents, the intentional criminal attack on the student by other classmates was considered reasonably foreseeable.
During initial settlement discussions in the litigation, the student requested $45 million in damages while the school board countered with an offer of $50,000. Subsequently, the school district increased its settlement offer to a million dollars and then $1.5 million. However, the student’s attorneys rejected this settlement offer and received a $10.5 million settlement.
Our South Florida premises liability attorneys emphasize the importance of a careful investigation of the facts and prior incidents when pursuing negligent security lawsuits and other claims based on injuries caused by the criminal acts of a third party. The commercial, residential, or public property owner in these cases typically will attempt to focus all of the blame on the criminal offenders. Third party liability becomes important because the perpetrator of the attack, battery, rape, sexual assault, or other violent crime often will not have the insurance coverage necessary to satisfy a settlement or judgment. Establishing the fault of a property owner will open the door to other assets and insurance coverage that can be used to pay the settlement or verdict.
If you are the victim of a violent attack, the South Miami personal injury lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire. With over 130 collective years of experience representing policyholders across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence. Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights. Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald. Put our lawyers to work on your case. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.