Premises Liability in Mass Shootings

Can businesses and property owners be held liable in mass shootings? No one will dispute that the ultimate responsible party is the shooter, but what about the businesses that fail to look after the safety of their customers, employees and other guests?

The answer isn’t simple. Each case is unique. Businesses and property owners can be held liable for injuries and deaths resulting from negligent security, under the theory of premises liability. That doesn’t mean that every business is responsible for every criminal act that happens on the premises. You must prove that certain elements exist.


The first element you must establish is foreseeability. For instance, when the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting occurred, it was the first of its kind. While anything could happen anywhere, and criminal attacks do sometimes happen at movie theaters, it would be hard to prove that an attack of that magnitude was forseeable.

On the other hand, in the case of the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs, the element of foreseeability is easier to prove. Planned Parenthood and other clinics that provide abortions have a long history of violent attacks, including shooting and bombings, perpetrated by anti-abortion extremists.

Today, the increase in terrorist attacks and mass shootings may make the element of forseeability a little less daunting.

Could It Have Been Prevented?

The next element you need to prove is that there actually was a way to prevent the mass shooting, or minimize the severity. This could include measures such as installing metal detectors, hiring security guards, installing panic buttons, and more. It may sound simple, but it’s not. Your attorney will work with experts to prove that there were security measures that actually could have worked. The defendant will have experts who will try to prove that those measures would not have worked.

Is It Reasonable?

If you can prove that there was an effective way to prevent the mass shooting, or stop it more quickly, you also have to prove that it was something the business could afford to do. Basically, this means that businesses cannot be expected to spend so much on security that they can’t stay in business.

Liability for injuries and deaths caused by criminal attacks is a very complex area of law. To win, you need the help of an experienced and highly skilled premises liability attorney.

Avatar About Sandra Dalton

With a background as a paralegal, focusing on criminal defense and civil rights, Sandra Dalton launched her freelance writing career in 2000 with a weekly column on Freedom for Suite 101 and pro bono projects for individuals and organizations supporting causes close to her heart. One of her first projects was for the Police Compliant Center writing about police misconduct. Sandra’s legal writing quickly expanded to include personal injury, animal welfare, criminal defense, disability discrimination, family law and much more.