New York City negligence attorneys know that courts are generally not keen on holding third-parties responsible when someone commits a crime.
However, when they do, one of the key elements in determining whether a person can be held liable for injuries sustained in third-party criminal acts is foreseeability. That is, to what extent did the defendant know or should the defendant have known that risk of injury was probable?
This reasoning has been applied primarily to premises liability claims. For example, a landlord could reasonably foresee that by failing to install proper lighting and locks on doors that his tenants might face enhanced risk of a robbery or other attack. Likewise, a club owner might reasonably expect that an establishment that serves alcohol and plays violent music is prone to more fights, and therefore has a duty to ensure enough security is in place to handle such incidents, should they arise.
But what about individuals? In the case of England v. Brianas, the plaintiff alleged his ex-girlfriend had a duty to warn him of the potential violent tendencies of a former paramour. However, she made no mention of her ex, his threatening messages, his angry confrontations or his alleged stalking. The plaintiff said her failure to warn him proximately resulted in his injuries when the ex-boyfriend broke into the woman’s apartment and stabbed him multiple times, leaving him with extensive injuries.
However, the New Hampshire Supreme Court rejected this argument, declining to hold her accountable for the actions of her ex. The court reasoned that, solely based on the former boyfriend’s behavior, there was no indication he would be physically violent or that he might attack her new boyfriend.
The plaintiff argued that special circumstances existed that raised the threshold for her duty to warn him.
However, the court determined she could not warn him regarding something about which she did not know. The court noted the former boyfriend had never physically attacked her before. He had also never made any direct threats toward the new boyfriend. He had never broken into her home before or even made a threat to that end.
There have been cases wherein a domestic violence victim has been found liable for injuries to third parties, but those required a greater degree of proof.
One case referenced by the court was Fiala v. Rains, a 1994 decision out of Iowa. There, the defendant was aware of her boyfriend’s violent tendencies, as he had attacked her on numerous occasions. On the night the plaintiff was assaulted, he had given her a ride home from the bar. Both were unaware the boyfriend was outside the home, and when they arrived, he attacked them both. The plaintiff argued the defendant failed to warn him. However, the court in that case found no evidence the boyfriend had directly threatened the plaintiff prior to this incident, and there was no evidence immediately preceding the attack that might have alerted the defendant that such an attack was imminent.
In another case, Jobe v. Smith, a 1988 decision out of Arizona, a woman was held liable for injuries to the plaintiff, whom she had invited over to her house to fix an appliance, despite her knowledge that her estranged boyfriend was there, had a propensity for violence and threatened to attack the plaintiff prior to his arrival.
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England v. Brianas, June 18, 2014, New Hampshire Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Stanczyk v. City of New York, et al. – Appeals Court Upholds District Ruling, June 21, 2014, New York City Personal Injury Lawyer Blog