Florida Supreme Court Upholds Negligent Security Verdict Against Apartment Complex

We’ve written in the past about the civil aspects of crime. A huge area of negligent security case law derives from crime that occurs at apartment complexes. Landlords aren’t insurers of tenant safety, but surely have an obligation to do what they can to keep foreseeable crime out of the complex, and provide basic safety measures for tenants to help prevent injuries.

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A recent case decided by the Florida Supreme Court emphasizes how important nuanced facts are to negligent security cases. In the end, the court made a ruling that makes it a bit easier for victims to obtain reparation for injuries caused by a landlord’s failure to provide adequate safety.

Murder in an Apartment Complex Leads to Lawsuit

The case involves a seemingly secure apartment complex, surrounded almost entirely by water, except for a main gate. Units had alarm systems, and the complex had reasonable lighting, peepholes on the doors, and other basic security measures.

But when two residents were shot inside their units by an intruder, a lawsuit was filed for negligent security. The lawsuit eventually revealed that the main gate had been broken into a number of times in the past, leading to robberies and assaults. Additionally, the gate was not working properly at the time of these murders.

At trial, a jury found the complex 40% responsible, and awarded the victim’s estate over $4 million.

The appeal focused on the question of how the intruders got into the apartment. There was some indication that they may not have gotten in by force—that is, that they may not have been random prowlers, but someone known to the victims or allowed entry by the victims.

Thus, the complex argued on appeal, that because it was never ascertained how the intruders gained entry, it was error to enter a judgment against the complex for negligent security. In other words, there was no proof of causation.

The complex also contended that there was no foreseeability because there was insufficient evidence that there had been any prior crimes of such violence, such to put the complex on notice of the danger.

Supreme Court Finds Jury Was Correct

The case made it to the Florida Supreme Court. The court first clarified that proximate cause means that “it is more likely than not” that the negligence caused the injury complained of. The court took note of the long string of crimes on the property, including strong armed robberies, and other crimes where people had gained access, which indicated the gate clearly was keeping nobody out.

Although there was no evidence as to how entry was gained in this case, the court felt that given the long criminal history on the property, it was fair for a jury to make the inference the intruders gained access via the broken gate.

The court acknowledged that it was possible that the victims had voluntarily allowed the assailants in. However, that was an issue for the jury, which they decided in favor of the victims, and the court was unwilling to disrupt that finding on appeal.

Negligent security cases can involve catastrophic injuries, and complex facts. Talk to the Miami personal injury attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your negligent security case if you have been a victim of crime.

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