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When a New York Building Owner Can Be Held Liable for Negligent Security


Although NY building owners are not generally liable for assaults committed against their tenants by third parties, there is a narrow exception to this rule: where they fail to provide a minimal level of protection against the foreseeable criminal acts of those third parties.
One of New York's appellate courts summarized the relevant law on this subject as follows:
"Building owners and managing agents have a common-law duty to take minimal security precautions to protect tenants from the foreseeable criminal acts of third parties (see Jacqueline S. v City of New York, 81 NY2d 288 [1993]; Nallan v Helmsley-Spear, Inc., 50 NY2d 507 [1980]; Wayburn v Madison Land Ltd. Partnership, 282 AD2d 301 [2001]) ...
"[T]here is no requirement 'that the past experience relied on to establish foreseeability be of criminal activity at the exact location where plaintiff was harmed or that it be of the same type of criminal conduct to which plaintiff was subjected', or that 'the operative proof must be limited to crimes actually occurring in the specific building where the attack took place' (Jacqueline S. v City of New York, supra, at 294). However, this does not mean that the criminal activity relied upon by the plaintiffs to support their claim of foreseeability need not be relevant to predicting the crime in question. . . . Rather, to establish foreseeability, the criminal conduct at issue must be shown to be reasonably predictable based on the prior occurrence of the same or similar criminal activity at a location sufficiently proximate to the subject location" (Novikova v Greenbriar Owners Corp., 258 AD2d 149, 152-153 [1999]). Our case law is to the same effect (see Buckeridge v Broadie, 5 AD3d 298, 300 [2004]; see also Wayburn, 282 AD2d at 303-304; Brewster v Prince Apts., 264 AD2d 611, 614-615 [1999], lv denied 94 NY2d 762 [2000]; Williams v Citibank, 247 AD2d 49, 51 [1998]; Todorovich v Columbia Univ., 245 AD2d 45, 46 [1997], lv denied 92 NY2d 805 [1998])."
Since the injuries in such cases are often significant, and the factual issues of each such case are inherently unique, it is not at all surprising that there has been a significant amount of litigation over whether the building owner met its responsibility, and, more to the point, whether the nature of a particular attack was foreseeable to the owner.

Jonathan Cooper
Non-Compete, Trade Secret and School Negligence Lawyer