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A possessor of land, whether he be a landowner or a leaseholder, is not an insurer of the visitor's safety. Thus, even where there is an extensive history of criminal conduct on the premises, the possessor cannot be held to a duty to take protective measures unless it is shown that he either knows or has reason to know from past experience that there is a likelihood of conduct on the part of third persons which is likely to endanger the safety of the visitor. Only if such conditions are met may the possessor of land be obliged to take precautions and to provide a reasonably sufficient number of servants to afford a reasonable protection.
An injured party was shot by an unknown assailant in the lobby of an office building. Plaintiffs subsequently brought a negligence action against the building owner and manager seeking to recover for his personal injuries and for her loss of services. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of the building owner and manager and denied the injured party's motion to set aside the judgment. On review, the appellate division upheld the judgment.
Were the facts adduced at the trial sufficient to establish a prima facie case of negligence against the two defendants?
The court reversed, holding that the injured party and his wife were entitled to have their complaint reinstated and to have a new trial. Specifically, the court held that the building owner had a duty to make the public areas of its property reasonable safe; that the injured party and his wife had offered sufficient proof to make out a prima facie case based on this legal duty; that because there could be no rational finding of contributory negligence on the part of the injured party, the trial court had erred in submitting the issue to the jury; and, that the building manager could be held liable under an "assumed duty" theory, assuming the offering of additional proof by the injured party.