Negligent Security: Does Your Restaurant Have Exposure?

The negligent security claims made against restaurants fall into two subcategories:

1) failure to maintain adequate security measures

2) failure of the actual security measures in place. 

How does a restaurant owner take steps to avoid a negligent security lawsuit?

For example, an allegation of failure to maintain adequate security measures may be levied against a restaurant that is in a well-known high crime area, has a dimly lit parking lot and has no security guard or surveillance camera system.  Unfortunately, it really is as simple as that to get a case started against that hypothetical restaurant.  An allegation of failure of actual security measures could arise at the same restaurant under different facts.  Altering the facts slightly, if the restaurant had a lone security guard and that guard fell asleep and a crime occurred on the premises, then that is a failure of the presumably sufficient security measures that were in place.

The vast majority of the litigation that I encounter is from the failure to maintain adequate security measures.  It can be difficult for a restaurant owner to maintain adequate security because it is usually a moving target.  Crime statistics in different areas fluctuate.  Many times, restaurant owners are not aware of an uptick in violent crime in their area.  There may be a few news stories about violent crimes in an area, but to get the crime grid, which tells the real story of the danger in an area, one has to request it from the police department.

How does a restaurant owner take steps to avoid a negligent security lawsuit?

The million-dollar question is what can a restaurant owner do to prevent a negligent security lawsuit.  And, it can many times be a multimillion dollar question.  Negligent security cases often involve serious crimes that have serious damages including death and rape cases.  Juries tend to want to punish someone in these cases, and because the criminal assailant doesn’t have any money, the next in line is the restaurant owner.

To start to protect your restaurant, I recommend hiring a security professional to evaluate all aspects or the restaurant for potential exposure.  Security consultants are everywhere and an opinion from a good one is worth its weight in gold in the prevention department.  But, even without hiring a professional, here are five issues every restaurant owner should be looking at from a security standpoint.

Video Surveillance

This should really be a given for any restaurant owner.  Not only do surveillance cameras deter crime, but they are also great to catch staged slip and falls and prove that there was no liquid on the floor.  There was a time when a surveillance system was simply not affordable for some restaurant owners.  Now, the technology is easy and accessible and relatively cheap.  So, if you don’t have at least a few cameras set up, you are playing into some plaintiff’s lawyer’s theory that you chose to not pay X $ for cameras to save money, and as a result criminals saw fit to do what they wanted inside or outside of your restaurant. 

Crime Grids and Statistics  

Your local police station should have this data readily available for a three-to-five-mile radius from your restaurant.  If the police do not have this information readily available, the hard data for crimes can be requested and a security expert can easily produce a crime grid.  If you don’t have the crime grid, you are behind the eight ball.  I have seen this play out in dozens of negligent security cases.  The violent crime occurs and someone is seriously hurt or killed on the restaurant property.  Then a plaintiff’s lawyer is hired by the victim or decedent.  The first thing that lawyer does is obtain the crime grid.  The grid shows 110+ violent crimes in the past year in the restraint’s 3-mile radius.  Or, maybe the number of crimes isn’t nearly that high, but instead there were 7 violent crimes all in the parking lot adjacent to the restaurant.   At this point, assuming the restaurant did not take any security measures, i.e., a guard and cameras, the restaurant has a serious problem with liability.


Have some policies in effect regarding drinking by customers in your restaurant.  Many restaurants have very little if any drinking policies.  This is short-sighted.  Now, I am not saying patrons need to be watched like a hawk and there should be prohibition level restrictions.  Drinking goes along with socializing and the ambiance of a restaurant, and that should stay.  Excessive service of alcohol to patrons at a restaurant generally leads to bad things, mainly fights.  These cases are often filed under the guise of a negligent security claim.  Highly intoxicated individuals leave a restaurant bar or table for the parking lot and whoever loses the fight sues the restaurant.  I recently defended a case where the drunk patrons went into the parking lot and one had a hatchet in his truck that he used to hit the other in the head. 

Employee Background Checks

Most business do a criminal background search at a minimum before hiring anyone.  There are several cheap websites to obtain background checks.  They are cheap for a reason: accuracy problems.  As an owner of a restaurant with a lot of patrons, it borders on indefensible if there is a person working there with convictions or only charges for violent criminal acts.  To ensure someone with a criminal background does not obtain employment, a reputable internet search company is recommended or one done by a professional will cost more, but it’s worth it.

Security Company or Armed Police Officer

 First and foremost, security companies and police are a crime deterrent—They do not prevent crime.  Plaintiff’s attorneys argue all the time that security officers at restaurants should have prevented the crime that occurred there. This is false, and most times impossible. 

The hard and fast rule is if the restaurant is in a low crime area with no incidents of violent crime at or near the restaurant, a security company providing and unarmed guard is sufficient to rebut a claim of failure to maintain adequate security.  If there is a history of crime in the area, and even some at or near the location, an armed police offer is the best practice.

Will all of this prevent a lawsuit at the restaurant?  Probably not, but these measures will put any restaurant in a better position to defend itself when one comes.  All of these measures either cost money or take valuable time from restaurant owners.  In my experience, the restaurant owners that I have represented that have cut corners on security measures have been hit the hardest be lawsuits.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.