A recent appellate case arose when a man murdered his roommate, Andreas Galanis, in their apartment in Mississippi. The victim's mother and sister sued the murderer as well as the company that owned the apartment complex. They argued that the owner of the apartments negligently failed to warn the victim of the murderer's violent tendencies.
The company that owned the apartments began leasing apartments at the complex in 2006. It marketed the apartments to college students, and among the original tenants was the murderer. The owner hired a management company to manage the apartments. The company instituted a policy of performing background checks on everyone who applied for new leases and those tenants who renewed their leases with an outside service.
When an applicant was not eligible to lease an apartment or renew a lease because of prior criminal history, the applicant received a letter about the negative results, but the owner did not receive a list regarding the criminal record. The murderer in this case sought to renew his lease in 2007, and his background check showed a prior criminal history. The owner told him his renewal application was denied. His attorney sent a letter to the owner, explaining he wasn't a convicted felon and that he's only been charged with credit card fraud. Although he had pled guilty, his case was non-adjudicated, which meant he had submitted to probation but wasn't convicted. As a result, he was permitted to renew the lease.
The owner helped tenants find roommates by asking them to fill out questionnaires. The victim applied to lease an apartment and was approved. He was introduced by the owner to the murderer because they were fans of football who were older than traditional college students are. The choice was up to the individual tenants, not the owner. In this case, the roommates chose to live with each other. The leasing consultant believed they were friends, and they told him they liked living together.
Later, the victim told the leasing consultant his debit card was used without his permission, and he thought the murderer was responsible. The leasing consultant told him to file a report with the Sheriff. When the Sheriff asked if he wanted to press charges, he said he would try to resolve the issue informally. However, after he came back to the apartment, his roommate killed him.
The roommate was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. In 2009, the victim's mother and sister sued the apartment on the grounds that it should have known it failed to provide reasonably safe premises for the victim and that it had failed to warn the victim of the murderer's criminal history and violent tendencies. The apartment filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it didn't have actual or constructive knowledge of the roommate's violence, so it had no duty to warn. The court granted this motion. The mother and sister appealed.
The appellate court explained that in a premises liability case alleging negligence, a plaintiff has to prove the defendant's duty to conform to a standard of conduct, a breach of this duty, a causal connection between the breach and the injury, and actual damages. Duty is a question of law. The victim was an invitee. A property owner must use reasonable care to protect an invitee from reasonably foreseeable injuries from another person. An assault is only reasonably foreseeable when a property owner knows or should know of an assailant's violent nature or an atmosphere of violence.
The victim's family claimed that, a year before the man killed their son and brother, he submitted a resident concern form about his prior roommate. In that form, he indicated he didn't want to get violent with his roommate, but he thought his concerns about the roommate needed to be addressed by management. They argued this meant there was an issue of material fact about whether the company owed a duty to warn. The appellate court disagreed, explaining that there could be no duty based solely on someone's desire to avoid violence or his prior crime of credit card fraud. The judgment was affirmed.
If you or a loved one has been hurt by another person because of a property owner's failure to warn, an experienced premises liability attorney may be able to help you recover damages from the person or entity responsible for the accident and any other entity responsible for keeping the property safe. Contact the skilled team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC for a free consultation today.
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