At first blush it seems outrageous: Sue Planned Parenthood after it had been attacked by a gunman in Colorado Springs? If you weren’t following the news last November 27th, Robert Dear, a 57 year old madman, opened fire in the parking lot and then went inside.
Three people were killed and nine were injured over the course of a five-hour standoff before he surrendered.
But can you blame Planned Parenthood, as victims wish to do now in a lawsuit just filed? (Wagner v. Planned Parenthood) Isn’t the gunman the reason those people were killed and injured?
Well, just because the gunman may be responsible doesn’t mean others might not bear some responsibility also.*
And the key principle is this: Property owners owe a duty of reasonable care to those on the premises to keep it safe.
If you owned an apartment building, for example, you would be expected to provide locks. And if the lock is broken, and you dilly-dally a year in fixing it and someone breaks in and rapes/beats/kills a resident? You may be found to have violated that duty of care for not acting reasonably. Locked doors deter and protect.
If the attack happened before you even knew of the broken lock, you would expect a different result. Reasonableness is the touchstone.
If the building were in a high crime neighborhood, a week delay may be unreasonable. In a neighborhood that hasn’t had a break-in since the time of the Great Flood? A week may seem to be perfectly reasonable. It matters what is foreseeable.
So in the case of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, the issues are what kind of threats did it have and what type security did it have? The complaint says many threats but almost no security.
That issue — whether security existed or not and the extent of its existence given threats — will go to the heart and soul of the suit.
The issue that will follow, of course, is causation: What good would the security have done in the face of a crazed gunman. Wouldn’t he get in anyway? One would think that, with locked doors or other means of stalling him, others inside the building may have had a better opportunity to call for the police or to escape.
Negligence and causation are the two fundamental issues of any suit for negligence.
Since I work without any direct knowledge, and just a couple of news articles, I mean only to write broadly. I do so because this is exactly the type of case for which knee-jerk political responses are possible.
But there aren’t really any political components in such a suit. It’s simply a matter of whether reasonable security existed given whatever threats may have been known, and the degree to which reasonable security would have helped.
It would seem to me that, if the clinic did not have, at a minimum, a good locked door and buzzer system, then Planned Parenthood’s insurance company should be getting ready to write checks. Whether more than that is needed, may well be a question for a jury one day.
*(I write generally about principles involved here since I’m not admitted in Colorado.)