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New Jersey Landlord Owes No Duty to Tenant for Random, Unpreventable Criminal Act

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The New Jersey Appellate Division recently affirmed the dismissal of a personal injury lawsuit against a residential landlord, finding that a random, intentional assault which took place on the premises could not have been foreseen to trigger premises liability.

In Garbacki v. Young, the plaintiff heard knocking on his apartment door and, believing that it was his wife, opened the door. However, he instead found the defendant, Alshon Young, who believed that he was knocking on his grandfather’s door. Thinking that Plaintiff was an intruder, Young struck and injured Plaintiff, who filed suit against Young, the owner of the apartment complex and the property manager.

The landlords moved for summary judgment on the issue of notice, highlighting Plaintiff’s admission that he never had any random visitors knock on his door and that the only police reports involving the apartment complex were three false burglar alarms two years earlier. The trial court granted the motion on the basis that Plaintiff failed to produce any evidence that this type of criminal activity was foreseeable by the landlords.

The Appellate Division affirmed after applying a “totality of the circumstances” test. The Court found that the record only reflected two discrete instances of criminal activity, which was not enough to make the assault giving rise to the lawsuit foreseeable. The Appellate Division further found that there was nothing the landlords could have done to prevent Young from knocking on the wrong door, and that the attack was simply a random, unpreventable criminal act by a third party.

Although Plaintiff attempted to rely on a report summarizing violent crimes in the township where the premises were located, the Appellate Division held that prior criminal incidents is just one factor in the test. Given the totality of circumstances, the Court found that a random, unpreventable criminal act by a third party, and suggested posting of nearby crime statistics by the landlords, could not have prevented Plaintiff's injuries.

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