The decedent-plaintiff was delivering meals to the elderly at a New York Housing Authority-owned building. He was in the building’s lobby when an unidentified assailant entered the building and fatally shot the plaintiff. The Housing Authority moved for summary judgment, arguing that the building’s entrance door lock was functional at the time of the shooting. The Supreme Court granted the motion and dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint.
On appeal, the Second Department clarified that a plaintiff could recover against a landlord when inadequate security is alleged only if the injury was caused by an intruder (not a tenant or a guest of a tenant) and only if the assailant gained access to the premises through a negligently maintained entrance. Further, there must be a causal link between the landlord’s negligence and the attack. In reviewing the record, the Second Department held that, while the front door lock was working at the time of the incident, there was still an issue of fact as to whether the accident was caused by a negligently maintained entrance. In other words, given that the assailant entered through the front door, it was up to a jury to determine whether the landlord failed to provide proper protection to the plaintiff given that he somehow made it inside the building.
This Aminova, etc., et al. v. New York City Housing Authority decision calls into question whether a landlord has to go above and beyond when it comes to maintaining a safe premises. Specifically, this decision seems to imply that a fully functioning door lock, which may have been left open/unlocked by a tenant, might not be enough security to protect a landlord from facing liability for injuries caused by non-tenants. It also calls into question whether a landlord’s possible liability exposure is contingent on the landlord having notice of prior instances where intruders have entered a building or whether such prior breaches of the security system are not necessary in order to find liability against the landlord.
Thanks to Georgia Coats for her contribution to this post. Please email Vito A. Pinto with any questions.