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Law School Case Brief

Waters v. N.Y.C. Hous. Auth. - 69 N.Y.2d 225, 513 N.Y.S.2d 356, 505 N.E.2d 922 (1987)

Rule:

Two important factors in determining the scope of a duty are the relationship between the defendant and the third person that threatens the harm on the one hand, and the relationship between the defendant and the person exposed to harm on the other. While the absence of a relationship of privity between the defendant and the injured party is not by any means dispositive, considerations of privity are not entirely irrelevant, particularly when public policy is involved. 

Facts:

A man attacked Simone Waters with a knife, forced her  inside the landowner's building, which was unlocked and onto the roof where he sodomized her. Waters submitted evidence that the front door locks on the building had been broken or missing for two years prior to the incident and several tenants had complained. Neither Waters nor the man who assaulted her had any connection to the building. 

Issue:

May the owner of an occupied urban building who has not kept the building's security system in good repair be held liable in tort solely because the building was used to complete a crime that began on a public street?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The court found that while the landowner had a duty to maintain the front door locks in working condition, it existed for to protect the safety and possessions of tenants and visitors inside the premises. The court held that as the landowner had no relationship at all to the wrongdoer whose presence on the street posed a threat to Waters' safety and because Waters had no association to the premises independent of the crime itself, the landowner's duty to maintain the security of the building did not extend to her.

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