In a contentious case involving allegations of negligent maintenance, inspection and security against an apartment complex owner, the Appellate Court of New Jersey affirmed the lower court's decision granting the defendant's motion for summary judgment. WSHB’s team, including partners Jill Mucerino and Kelly Waters, successfully argued that the property owner had no duty to prevent injuries sustained by plaintiff tenant resulting from a physical altercation in the complex’s parking garage and, thus, was not liable. They argued that the altercation was not foreseeable and, therefore, was not within the scope of the duty owed by the owner to plaintiff. The Appellate Court, conducting a de novo review of the trial court’s decision, agreed.
The undisputed facts on record before the Appellate Court indicated that, hours before the altercation, the property owner’s security team advised plaintiff that they had observed his car parked in the garage with one of its doors open. They closed the door and noticed nothing out of place, but asked plaintiff to check the car upon his arrival at the garage. Upon plaintiff’s arrival, he checked in with security, who advised plaintiff to inform them immediately if he encountered any problems, or noticed anything suspicious upon arriving at the location of the car in the garage. When Plaintiff arrived at the parking spot where his vehicle was parked, he observed a person sitting inside the vehicle smoking a cigarette. Instead of calling security as he was instructed, plaintiff approached the individual to get him to vacate the car. The two men became involved in an altercation, which resulted in plaintiff’s claimed injuries. The individual that was in plaintiff’s car was determined to be another tenant of the complex who was known to the owner and had a history of mischief and misconduct.
Plaintiff sued the property owner for damages resulting from the altercation, claiming that it was negligent in its inspection, maintenance, and security of the parking garage. After discovery was complete, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment taking the position that its duty did not encompass prevention of the altercation, which was initiated by plaintiff himself and which was unforeseeable to the owner. Specifically, on behalf of the owner, the WSHB team argued that: (1) the defendant was not liable for the negligence of the tenant; (2) plaintiff failed to show that the alleged danger was foreseeable and (3) the plaintiff's own actions were in fact the proximate cause of his injuries.
The trial court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff appealed. Following significant briefing and oral argument, the Appellate Court issued an opinion stating, "[h]ere the record is clear and one-sided as Plaintiff failed to raise any genuine issue of material fact sufficient to defeat summary judgment.” It held that, while the owner did owe a duty to plaintiff tenant, the scope of such duty did not include the prevention of the subject altercation, which was unforeseeable to defendant owner.
Congratulations to the team at WSHB on this fantastic outcome for the client!