The owner of an apartment complex for seniors owed a duty of care to residents who resided there, according to a new ruling by the Nebraska Supreme Court. Whether it breached that duty by failing to perform a criminal background check and evicting the son of another resident who was living their against complex rules is a question for the jury.
In Peterson v. Kings Gate Partners, the negligence lawsuit arises from an assault allegedly perpetrated against plaintiff by the son of plaintiff’s neighbor. Plaintiff alleges neither he nor other residents were informed of this person’s violent criminal history, and asserts this failure by the complex – whose managers knew of this person’s presence – resulted in a failure to provide safe premises for those who lived there.
According to court records, plaintiff lived across the hall from his assailant, who lived with his mother in her apartment which was leased in her name. The property was restricted to residents 55-and-older, and as such, the assailant’s presence as a resident was a violation of the property rules.
Although it is not clear what events predicated the assault, we do know it left elderly plaintiff with injuries. After the attack, management reportedly told plaintiff they had conducted a background check on the assailant and it had turned up nothing. But on another occasion, management mentioned a background check revealed a years-old felony drug conviction.
But in fact, this particular person had numerous convictions for violent crimes, including assault and battery, violation of a protection order (for verbally assaulting a mentally disabled woman over the phone) and abuse of a vulnerable adult.
Plaintiff sued the apartment complex for failing to perform a background check on this man, failing to remove him from the site, failing to warn or otherwise protect tenants from him and failing to provide a safe place to live for tenants.
Defendant property owner filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state claim. Specifically, defense asserted it did not owe a duty of care to plaintiff in that it was not required to protect plaintiff from his neighbor’s son. Trial court granted motion to dismiss, and plaintiff appealed.
The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed. The court noted firstly there is a special relationship that exists between landlord and tenant, which can create a duty of care that might not otherwise exist. This generally includes the duty of reasonable care with regard to risks that arise within the scope of that relationship.
In this case, the court ruled, plaintiff did make a plausible claim that defendant owed him a duty of care, such that it should survive dismissal for failure to state a claim. Whether or not that duty was in fact breached is a question of material fact that is best left to the judgment of a jury.
Landlords in Florida have many obligations to tenants under F.S. 83.51. Certain failures of these statutes and other duties resulting in injury to a tenant may be basis for a personal injury lawsuit. Contact us today to learn more about your legal rights.
If you have been injured in Florida, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Peterson v. Kings Gate Partners, April 10, 2015, Nebraska Supreme Court
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