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Landlord Found Not to Have Breached Any Duty to Guest of Tenant in Failing to Provide Adequate Security

By on October 24, 2014 in Blog with 0 Comments

Melissa Alvarado sued the Blair House, a condominium complex, and its property manager based upon personal injuries she suffered due to the defendants’ alleged failure to provide adequate security while at Blair. One night, she was there to visit her boyfriend at 12:15 am and, while parking her car, was approached by two individuals, Eric Obugyei and Catherine Smith. They persuaded her to drive them to the bus station and, after she drove off the Blair lot, abducted her, and stole her car. In Alvardo v. Blair House, 2014 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2106 (App. Div. Aug. 27, 2014), the plaintiff claimed that her injuries could have been prevented had the defendants had better security.

The trial court granted summary judgment as to the defendants and this appeal followed.

Alvarado voluntarily lent Obugyei her cell phone while in the Blair parking lot. She also agreed to drive them to the bus station after they promised to pay her. She unlocked her car and let them into her car. Neither individual did anything threatening to her until they were about a mile from Blair. Then Smith put a wire around plaintiff’s neck, started to choke her, pulled her into the backseat, put a bag over her head, and bound her wrists and ankles. They then drove to the river, made her walk to knee-deep water and, thereafter, drove off with her car.

When the plaintiff was in the parking lot of Blair, there was a camera pointed at the area where she encountered her two abductors. The plaintiff showed that there were 85 prior calls to the police from Blair and claimed that it was “rife” with criminal activity. However, the plaintiff was unable to show, except for a few calls, that they involved the commission of a crime.

The Appellate Division looked at not whether the defendants owed a duty of care but whether they breached that duty. The plaintiff contended that Blair should have had a security guard constantly watching the monitor and, when the individuals approached her, they should have questioned them.

The court found that, based upon the totality of the circumstances, no reasonable jury could infer that the defendants breached their duty of care due to the security guards’ failure to question these individuals. From an objective point of view, it looked like an innocuous encounter among three adults. The abductors showed no outward hostility or aggression towards the plaintiff in the parking lot. There was no suggestion that criminal activity was to occur. Thus, under these facts, the Appellate Division found that the defendants did not breach their duty of care and upheld the dismissal of the case.

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Betsy G. Ramos

About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

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