No Landlord Liability Where On-Premises Assault Not Committed by “Intruders”

One type of “premises liability” case arises from injuries sustained on a landowner’s property as a result of a third-party’s acts, namely, criminal conduct. However, whether an injured plaintiff can recover depends on the third party’s status.

As explained by the Appellate Division, First Department in Hierro v. New York City Housing Authority (decided December 11, 2014):

A landlord has a common-law duty to take minimal precautions to protect tenants from a third party’s foreseeable criminal conduct. In order to recover damages, a tenant must establish that the landlord’s negligent conduct was a proximate cause of the injury. Where a plaintiff alleges that a criminal attack in a building was proximately caused by a landlord’s failure to provide adequate security, [the] plaintiff can recover only if the assailant was an intruder. To defeat a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff need not conclusively establish that the assailants were intruders, but must raise triable issues of fact as to whether it was more likely than not that the assailants were intruders who gained access to the premises through the negligently-maintained entrance. (Emphasis added.)

Applying the law, the Hierro court held that “no triable issue of fact exists here because there is no evidence from which a jury could conclude, without pure speculation, that the assailants were intruders, as opposed to tenants or invitees.”

It therefore unanimously reversed the trial court’s decision denying defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

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