Owner Not Liable for Assault on Resident
Facts: After using her key to enter the lobby of the building, a resident was deterred by the presence of two men standing in front of the elevator. The resident testified that she didn’t “trust anybody in that building” and declined their invitation to enter the elevator. She went outside and waited until she saw two elderly Hispanic women enter the building. All five persons got onto the elevator when it arrived, and the resident pressed the button for the seventh floor. The two elderly women got off on a lower floor, while the two men remained with the resident. When the doors opened at the seventh floor, the men physically prevented the resident from leaving. At the top floor, they forced her into a stairway leading to the roof, where one of the men assaulted her. The resident then sued the owner for the defective lock that allowed the two men who assaulted her to gain entry to the building.
The owner produced records maintained in the ordinary course of business that established that the entrance door to the subject building was in good working order on the date the resident was assaulted. The record included the deposition testimony of the assistant superintendent, who stated that the 13-story building is part of a large development and that he received daily reports regarding the condition of the entry door and lock, which were inspected every morning. If a problem were noted, it was his duty to generate a work ticket for the necessary repair. The report dated March 3, 2005, the date of the assault, was blank, indicating that nothing was wrong with the entry door or lock. The trial court denied the owner’s request for a judgment without a trial in the owner’s favor, and the owner appealed.
Ruling: A New York appeals court ruled in the owner’s favor.
Reasoning: The resident couldn’t prove the condition of the front door lock was “visible and apparent” and existed for a sufficient period of time that the owner’s employees should have become aware of it and corrected it. In the absence of proof that the owner contributed to the injuries suffered by the victim, by failing to repair a defect in its entry door lock in a timely manner, the court ruled that no liability could be imposed.
Also, according to the court, the owner as landlord had discharged its common-law duty to protect the occupants, having taken the requisite minimal security precautions against reasonably foreseeable criminal acts by providing a locking entry door. The court also concluded that the testimony that the entry door to the premises could be “popped” open didn’t charge the owner with “a general awareness” of a defective condition.
- Batista v. The City of New York, July 2013