As active shooter and other workplace violent events continue to occur, more victims and their families are looking to the facility owner/operator where the shooting took place to assume responsibility. They claim the owner/operator could have been more proactive in prevention, and therefore, is liable for the violence that took place on their property.
In a number of cases, the property owner/operator has even been taken to court for damages. For example, the landlord and/or business owners in the 2012 Aurora movie theater and 2017 Mandalay Bay hotel shootings were both sued in the aftermath.
While there’s no doubt that property owners/operators have a “duty to protect” occupants, the question of negligence revolves around the owner/operator’s “foreseeability” of the violent event.
Foreseeability is tied to a building’s risk factors and prevention. Do strip mall tenants have higher risks? Did the church receive previous threats of violence? If so, was security increased and were authorities alerted? Does the property owner/operator have a violence prevention plan in place?
At a minimum, property owners/operators will incur the legal defense costs, and possibly a host of other expenses, including victims’ medical bills, funerals, building refurbishments, loss of business and victim settlements. These costs may not be covered by a typical general liability or property policy and, when significant damage is done, or the case is high-profile, the total can be excessive. Estimates say the Mandalay Bay incident cost $600 million.
Reduce your foreseeable risks by covering the basics
True story: an employee that was terminated from his job returned the following day with a gun and opened fire on the staff. During the investigation, it came to light that no one told the office’s HR department or security team of the employee’s termination. Therefore, he entered the building legitimately with his employee key card and had full access to the office.
Physical security alone is not enough. Pairing physical security efforts with a violence prevention program has proven to be significantly more effective.
Aim to reduce your foreseeable risk
Complete a risk assessment at each property in your portfolio. Violent events are most often caused by someone who knows the establishment or is seeking it out, like a disgruntled employee or customer. Facilities that house certain services or industries will face greater risks, including healthcare services, social services, pharmacies, convenience stores or establishments that serve alcohol. Regardless of how many properties are in your real estate portfolio, acknowledge each for its own individual hazards and risks.
Identify stakeholders and assemble a workplace violence prevention committee. Ensure this group has received basic workplace violence awareness training so they are working from a shared understanding of the topic and known best practices. They will champion program development and sustained deployment.
Build a violence prevention program focused on the types of businesses that occupy your facility. Consider the types of businesses that occupy your facility and the violence that exists in your area. Both are a direct indication of the breadth of programs you need to employ. Review and follow existing published violence prevention plan standards and guidelines which include elements like physical security, dedicated HR policies, an incident reporting process and a process to assess known threats as they arise.
Assess your current property and general liability (GL) policies together with your broker. Find out what your policies cover in the case of a violent event, and with what limits. When necessary, consider additional protection including the following policy endorsements: active assailant, bereavement counseling benefit, crisis management, crisis response, employee assistance programs and workplace violence coverage. Should you engage one of these endorsements, pay attention to its sub-limits. Make sure they are adequate enough to deal with a violent event.
About the authors
Chris Dunlap is Vice President and Senior Risk Consultant with global insurance broker Hub International’s Real Estate division. He functions as a subject matter expert for the industry and leads a team that develops unique services specific to residential and commercial real estate clients, including developers and owners running large construction projects. In this capacity, he deals with issues relating to contractual risk transfer on a routine basis.
Isaac Monson is a Senior Risk Consultant with HUB International’s Risk Services Division. He has over 15 years of professional experience managing risk in various public and private industry settings including state government, manufacturing, construction, retail, healthcare, and non-profit. During his service as a State Trooper, Isaac accumulated advance training and experience in law enforcement, emergency scene management, civil unrest response and crowd control, and investigations. He also received twenty-one letters of commendation and five annual Chief’s Awards for performance.