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August 26, 2022

Is Your Business Liable when Your Independent Contractor / Outside Security Company is Negligent?

by Rob Erney, Esq., Erney Law

Business owners have a duty to be aware of the foreseeable risks that hosting an event may pose for them. A business owner may think that they are protected from liability if an independent contractor or outside security company is negligent at their event – but that is not always the case under Ohio law.

This area of the law is very fact-specific, and you will often hear a lawyer telling you “it depends” when you ask if your business may be liable for an injury that occurs at your event or on your premises. When you plan for an event, you should spend a considerable amount of time assessing risk. For some events, you may have to hire an outside security company to ensure the safety of your customers and guests. For example, if your business event serves alcohol, hosts high-profile guests, is open to the public, or attracts media attention, it would be in your best interest to hire an outside security company.

Once you hire an outside security company, what happens when a customer or guest is injured at the event? What if the injury occurs because the security guard was negligent? Does it matter if the injury was intentional or accidental? Are the security guard and the security company solely liable?

Generally, if a business hires an outside company to manage security at an event, the security guards would be considered independent contractors. As a general rule, an employer is liable for the negligent acts of its employees committed within the course and scope of employment, and an employer of an independent contractor generally is not liable for the negligent acts of the independent contractor. The primary test in determining whether one is an employee or independent contractor boils down to whether the business has the right to control the manner or means of the work being performed. However, there are exceptions for “non-delegable duties.”

Nondelegable duties are either: a) those duties created by statute or law, or b) duties imposed on the employer that arise out of inherently dangerous work. The work performed by security guards will more likely than not be considered inherently dangerous, and a business is not insulated from liability even if it contracts with an outside company for security.

How can you protect yourself from claims of negligent security? First, you should carefully select a reputable security company that ensures proper hiring, training, supervision and compliance with state and federal laws. Second, you should evaluate and assess how to minimize risks on your property and at any event you host. Third, your business should always have a written contract with the outside security company which expressly sets forth the rights, duties and responsibilities of the parties.

Hosting events that require security creates a certain amount of risk. It is critically important that your business and the security company carry separate insurance policies to protect against that risk. Negligent security is a growing area of the law due to increased crime in our society. Businesses need to protect their customers and invitees, and themselves, against this growing risk.

Once you hire an outside security company, what happens when a customer or guest is injured at the event? What if the injury occurs because the security guard was negligent? Does it matter if the injury was intentional or accidental? Are the security guard and the security company solely liable?