The elements in a negligence cause of action are duty, breach of that duty, causation, and damages.
On June 20, 1990, plaintiff intended to visit her friend, who was residing at an apartment owned by Defendant. While the plaintiff was waiting in the lobby of the defendant’s apartment building and while her friend struggled to admit her by using an electronic buzzer that did not work, the plaintiff became a victim of a violent assault. At the trial, the jury indicated in interrogatories that the verdict for plaintiff was based entirely on a finding that defendants were negligent in failing to maintain the building telephone security intercom communication system to protect plaintiff and others. The defendants then appealed, claiming that the court improperly denied their motion for a directed verdict.
Is a landlord liable for damages arising from a criminal assault on a tenant's visitor if the assault occurred while the tenant was trying to buzz the visitor into the building?
The Court held that the trial court erred in its decision and that it should have entered judgment for defendants as a matter of law due to the fact that plaintiff failed to establish that the defendant’s negligence in providing locks and knobs on an apartment door was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The Court posited that the jury could not reasonably have found that the assault on the plaintiff and the resultant injury were within the foreseeable scope of risk created by the defendants' failure to maintain the intercom system and therefore, the necessary causal relationship was not established. In this case, the intervening criminal act of the assailant was not within the scope of risk created by defendants' lack of maintenance, because the primary reason buildings have buzzer systems is to protect residents, not guests.