Dominique Simmons and Bennett Smith, who resided apart, argued by telephone over childcare arrangements for their daughter. Simmons went to Smith’s apartment to pick up the child. While there, she removed a quantity of illegal drugs that belonged to Smith. Simmons returned to her apartment, telephoned Smith and taunted him about how she had removed drugs from his apartment. A short time later, Smith went to Simmons’ apartment and confronted her. Smith shot Simmons. She was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Smith was convicted of first-degree attempted assault and sentenced to six years in prison.
Simmons sued the apartment complex and the apartment managing agent, alleging inadequate security and negligence for failing to provide adequate locks on the apartment building’s entryway and the door to her apartment. Simmons testified that on a previous occasion, while residing in the same apartment, she had suffered abuse at the hands of Smith, and for her protection she sought refuge at a center for abused women.
The center wrote a letter to the managing agent of the apartment complex advising that Simmons should be allowed to move to a different apartment unit as a means to help Simmons avoid further abuse by Smith. The advice was not acted upon. Simmons also stated that the apartment complex had failed to protect her because the entryway to the building had a history of not being locked and the lock to her apartment was faulty.
The apartment complex and the apartment managing agent filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion. The court found that at the time of the incident, Simmons’ apartment door had at least one functioning lock. Although it was not known how Smith gained access to Simmons’ apartment, the plaintiff’s claim failed to sufficiently allege that her injuries were directly caused by unsafe conditions at the building where she resided. The court also noted that the defendants had not been informed that Simmons was in an abusive relationship with Smith; therefore, the defendants had no way to know that Simmons was in danger. The defendants also claimed that the attack on Simmons was unforeseeable.
This case illustrates the general rule that a landlord has a duty to take precautions to protect tenants and their invitees from foreseeable criminal acts. Although the court dismissed the complaint against the defendants in this case, the injuries to Simmons and the ensuing litigation might have been avoided if the defendants had taken steps to install and maintain reasonably secure doors and locks. (Simmons v. Kingston Heights Apts. L.P., No. 336/09, New York Supreme Court, Kings County, May 3, 2013, unpublished.)
Source: Security Law Newsletter, published monthly by Strafford Publications, Atlanta, GA., www.straffordpub.com, 800-926-7926, ext. 10, firstname.lastname@example.org