A state court of appeals held that a security service provider could be held liable for failing to protect a landlord's tenant from a third-party assailant because the security provider contracted to accept the responsibility for protecting the apartment complex.

Roberto Romero filed a lawsuit against his landlord, an apartment building owner, and the security services provider that was hired to provide protection for the building after an unknown assailant unexpectedly punched him in the face, said a Security Law Newsletter report.


Security guards provided by the security service manned the building lobby 24-hours-per-day and a roving guard also patrolled the building. Employees of the security provider testified that the rear door lock was often broken and that several days frequently passed before a broken door lock was fixed. Romero and the security guards who witnessed the attack both testified that the assailant was not a tenant and was not a familiar presence in the building, the report said.


Romero's landlord and the security service both filed motions for summary judgment arguing they could not be held liable for the unknown third party's criminal conduct. The trial court granted the motions and dismissed Romero's lawsuit and Romero appealed.


In the case, a New York Supreme Court Court of Appeals found that landlords have the duty to use reasonable care in order to protect guests from the foreseeable criminal acts of third parties. In order to recover damages a tenant who is harmed by an unidentified assailant must show the assailant was an intruder who gained access to the premises through an entrance that was not properly maintained.


Upon review of the evidence, including statements provided by the security guards, the court of appeals determined there was sufficient evidence that tended to prove the landlord failed to maintain the locks to the door and that the security guards allowed the assailant to loiter in the building lobby prior to the assault. The evidence also suggested the landlord had prior notice, based on police reports of previous crimes against building residents, that an attack against Romero was foreseeable.


The security service provider argued that its contract to provide security for the building was with the landlord and not with Romero. However, the court of appeals rejected the argument that the security provider could not be held liable to Romero for his injuries. The court of appeals held that the security service provider contracted to provide the sole security for the building and to prevent criminal activity from occurring on the property as well as to protect tenants from harm, the report said.


The court of appeals held it was reasonable for Romero to recover damages if the evidence proved the security guards failed to fulfill their duties prior to the attack. The court of appeals therefore reversed the trial court's decision and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.