May 24th, 2016

Planned Parenthood Sued Over Shooting, for Negligent Security

Planned Parenthood, Colorado Springs

Planned Parenthood, Colorado Springs

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.)



May 18th, 2010

LaGuardia, JetBlue, And the Impostor (Airline Security Fail)

I go off-topic today because of an extraordinary security failure at LaGuardia, that just so happens to involve a local personal injury attorney, Jason Paris. The version on NBC is titled Security Lapse at LaGuardia is Cause for Alarm, and it involves another passenger boarding the same flight, but with a duplicate boarding pass in Paris’s name.

And when the problem is discovered, do they pull the impostor off the flight?   Get search warrants? Interrogate, water board or tase him?

Here is Paris’s first person account, as today’s guest blog:


This was pretty scary in light of the recent events regarding the ability of the Times Square bomber to make it onto a plane:

On Thursday, May 13th, I was on the 6am flight on Jetblue from LaGuardia to Fort Lauderdale. I was seated in 11F. Someone else got on and sat in 11E (the middle seat). He was traveling with only a laptop. A few minutes later the person who was supposed to be in 11E came on (a pilot from another airline who was flying to Florida to meet up with his crew). The flight attendant told the guy who was sitting in 11E that he was in the wrong seat. He said he knew, that he was supposed to be in 11F but since I was in it already he was being nice and didn’t ask me to move.

He then produced a boarding pass for 11F. It had my name on it. My name, not his. I had checked in online and printed my boarding pass at home, a full day before my flight. And yet here was someone with a boarding pass with my name on it.

This person had somehow managed to get through three security checkpoints and onto a plane without an ID and boarding pass that matched. He did not have an ID with my name on it. He had a French passport that was issued in Paris (which is my last name).

So the gate agent comes onto the plane. My law partner (who was in 11D) and I, as well as the off-duty pilot and the people in the surrounding rows assumed that she was going to conduct an investigation to get to the bottom of this, and make sure that we were all safe.  Not exactly…..

She does not ask to see any IDs. All she does is ask this man his last name so she can find his correct seat (which was 21D). She moved him to 21D and left the plane.  No one asked him any questions or asked to see his ID, no one asked to see my ID. And when I started asking what’s going on and asking how it’s possible that this happened, and when my law partner started saying it was a security breach – the gate agent and flight attendant gave us dirty looks and made us feel as if we said anything that they would kick us off the plane.

We were on our way to a pretty important business meeting with a new client, so I did the stupid thing.  I stayed on the plane.  I whipped out my blackberry and wrote a text message to one of our associates, letting her know all of this in case something horrible happened.  And even though the flight was at 6 a.m. and I was exhausted, I did not sleep at all on the plane.  I had an eye towards row 21 the entire flight, freaking out about what might happen.

Clearly this breakdown needs to be addressed and something needs to be done – this could have been a story with a horrible, tragic ending.


OK, ET again:

So the Transportation Security Administration will make us take off our shoes and belts, take your toothpaste, and go bonkers for smoking in the bathroom. In the near future, they will x-ray us up the wazoo.

But they will let a man pass multiple checkpoints without matching an ID to a boarding pass, and when the error is discovered, will simply put the imposter in a new seat without bothering with all of that icky security stuff.

Nice to see we are in safe hands.