In a recent Georgia case, the survivors of a shooting rampage filed a lawsuit against the firms where the shooting occurred and against the company providing security to those firms.

The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the firm and the security company and against the plaintiffs, who were survivors of the shooting. On appeal, the issue involving the security company was whether the security company owed any duty to the survivors.

The plaintiffs offered testimony from experts who testitied that the shooting event was foreseeable. They explained generalized concepts of violent reactions to financial disaster and workplace violence and gave examples of specific events in various parts of the country.

The plaintiffs contended that the security company owed them a duty to protect them from criminal assault and claimed they were third-party beneficiaries of the security company’s contract with the company’s property manager.

The court determined that in personal injury cases, an injured party may not recover as a third-party beneficiary for failure to perform a duty imposed by a contract unless it is apparent from the language of the agreement that the contracting parties intended to confer a direct benefit upon the plaintiff to protect him or her from physical injury.

The mere fact that the third party would benefit from performance of the agreement is insufficient, the court maintained. It recognized that when a property owner contracts with a private security company, the parties may expect the security services provided to benefit those who visit the property.

However, the court found that the contract with management contained no language reflecting an intent to confer direct benefit on any tenant’s employees or customers. Therefore, the plaintiffs were not third-party beneficiaries of the security company’s contract with the firm.

No evidence was presented of previous incidents sufficiently similar that would have alerted the security company to a risk of physical assault by a tenant’s customer upon a tenant’s other customers and employees.

No evidence supported a conclusion that the security company should have recognized the services it contracted to provide were necessary to protect the company’s customers and employees from a violent rampage by a financially devastated day trader.

Therefore, the security company did not assume a duty to protect the company’s customers and employees from criminal assault that went beyond its contractual obligation to the company.

The court therefore affirmed the ruling of the lower court, which granted summary judgment against the plaintiffs.