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Insecurity vs. Outside Security
by Ron Davis

Is a shopping center owner legally liable for a crime that occurs on the premises of one of his tenants?

That was the question that a Texas appellate court had to answer in a case involving a Houston shopping center and a woman who blamed the center's owner for the death of her son, an employee of one of the center's tenants.

The shopping center is Commerce Park North, where the tenant operates a movie theater. And the tenant's employee died as a result of a gunshot wound suffered during a robbery of the theater. In suing the shopping center, his mother argued that the center's owner failed to provide the security needed to protect her son.

The shopping center retained a security service at the time of the robbery and shooting, but the contract with that service did not specify which areas of the center the service personnel would safeguard. And the lease with the movie theater tenant contained only a single reference that a portion of the tenant's rent would pay for "protecting and securing" the common areas.

In fact, the security service contract made no mention of providing security for the interior of the leased premises of the movie theater. In fact, the security firm had no authority either to control or to supervise the security or other activities that occurred within the theater.

But the mother of the slain theater employee contended that the shopping center owner "undertook to provide security for the entire property, including the leased premises." She added that the security contract was actually ambiguous as to whether the security firm was to patrol the center's leased premises as well as its common areas.

The Texas appellate court ruled, however, that the security contract was not ambiguous. Explained the judges, "The security contract arranged for a guard to patrol the common areas of Commerce Park North, not inside the leased premises. Without retaining control over the theater's leased premises or agreeing to make safe a known dangerous condition within the theater, the shopping center's owner had no duty to protect the theater's employees. (Thompson v. CPN Partners, L.P., 23 S.W.3d 64 [Tex.App.Austin 2000])

Decision: April 2000
Published: August 2000



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