Apartment Owner Has No Duty to Protect From Attacks Off Its Property

A premises owner’s duty generally does not include the duty to protect “from criminal acts occurring off [the] defendant premises owner’s property.” In Collier v. Legends Park LP, No. W2017-02313-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 3, 2018), plaintiff was a resident at defendant’s apartment building. Plaintiff was sitting in his car, which was parked on a public street, with a female companion. Another car pulled next to plaintiff’s car, and the female companion got into that car. When plaintiff then exited the vehicle, he was approached from behind by a second female holding a gun and demanding money. Plaintiff had several thousand dollars on him, but told the robber that the money was in his car. Plaintiff was eventually shot in both legs, and the robber got into the car with the other two people and drove away.

Plaintiff brought suit against the owner of the apartment building for negligence, “alleging that Defendants knew of should have known of the foreseeable presence of dangerous persons and that their failure to maintain the property in a safe condition was the direct cause of Plaintiff’s injury.” The trial court granted summary judgment to defendant, finding that plaintiff had no proof that defendant “had notice of the assailant’s presence or an opportunity to prevent the shooting.” The trial court affirmed summary judgment, but on the ground that defendant did not owe a duty to plaintiff.

In order to sustain a case for negligence, a plaintiff must show that a duty of care existed, which is a “legal obligation to conform to a reasonable person’s standard of care in order to protect against unreasonable risks of harm.” (internal citation omitted). Regarding duty, the Court noted:

Tennessee courts have consistently found that people do not ordinarily have a duty to protect others from dangers or risks except for those that they themselves have created. …[T]here appears to exist no precedent for such a duty to a business patron continuing once the patron has left the business premises.

(internal citations and quotations omitted).

Here, plaintiff was on a public street, not defendant’s property, when the incident occurred. There were no “access controls” on this street and it was a public right-of-way. Further, plaintiff was shot by a person with no connection to defendant’s property. Based on these facts, the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment and found that there was “no duty owed by the Defendants to the Plaintiff in this case[.]”

The facts of this case were clearly not in plaintiff’s favor. Plaintiff had no way to tie the incident to defendant or defendant’s property, and thus couldn’t withstand summary judgment.