The parties involved in the settlement are being kept confidential to protect the identity of our client, however, I can say that the defendant was a St Louis area apartment owner that we maintained had knowledge of the crime levels in the area based on crime statistics available to them and reported crimes at the apartment complex. Despite the levels of crime the property owner allowed the common area security doors to remain in disrepair despite consistent complaints by the tenants.
Unfortunately, as a result of the inoperable security doors, a criminal was able to easily and quickly obtain access to our client's apartment making her an easy target for burglary and sexual assault. Several witnesses testified to the poor conditions and upkeep of the common area security doors as well as the apartment front doors and to the crime level in the neighborhood as well. There were constant complaints to management regarding the conditions and security concerns. Some issues were dealt with for temporary resolution and many issues were simply ignored. Several assaults and robberies took place against tenants and food delivery drivers.
In order to have a claim against a property owner, there must not only be a criminal act that causes injury, you must first establish a legal duty on the property owner to protect you from that criminal act.
ESTABLISHING A LEGAL DUTY TO PROVIDE SECURITY:
DUTY AS A MATTER OF LAW: Under Aaron v Havens.pdf there is a duty as a matter of law on a landlord to keep the common areas safe. In the Aaron case where a rape occurred after access by the intruder up the fire escape and through an unlocked apartment window the court stated "[i]f a private apartment can be entered through a window, injury to the occupants is foreseeable."
The scope of admissible evidence under Aaron is broad. Therein the Court held: "it is not necessary to allege that past crimes involving entry into unauthorized places are of the same general nature as the one which gave rise to the claim. If a burglar may enter, so may a rapist. To find a duty only the incidence of harm, not necessarily the quantum need be foreseeable."
In our case, we argued the Arron case applied as the building security doors and the apartment front doors were controlled by the owner according to the undisputed testimony of the witnesses. Thus, it is common area and according to Aaron there is a duty as a matter of law. Additionally, in our case the owner breached the duty by providing the locked doors and barely attempting to maintain them through cheap temporary fixes.
DUTY ESTABLISHED BY SPECIAL RELATIONSHIPS:
If the duty is not established as a matter of law, a duty can be imposed on a land owner based on special relationships. For a detailed discussion of the special relationships duty see Legal Elements and Issues Related to 3rd Pary Criminal Act Personal Injury cases in Missouri.
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If you or a family member have been injured as the result of a crime, contact negligent security and 3rd party criminal act injury lawyer Ben Sansone at (314) 863-0500.