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When is the landlord responsible for violence?

Under New York law, property owners must act in a reasonable manner to prevent harm to anyone on their premises. This extends not only to apartments but also to business establishments such as stores, restaurants and movie theaters.

A property owner, or landlord’s, responsibility includes the duty control the conduct of persons who are on their property when they have the opportunity to control this conduct and are reasonably aware that they must control this conduct. Owners of public establishments, however, do not have the duty to protect patrons against unforeseeable and unexpected assaults.

Earlier this month, the Second Judicial Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court ruled on a personal injury lawsuit against a multiplex movie theater in Queens. The suit sought damages for an assault against the plaintiffs by other patrons. The court found that the case could not be dismissed before trial because the defendants did not eliminate triable issues of fact on whether the assault on the plaintiffs could have been reasonably anticipated and prevented.

In this case, a security guard testified at a deposition that there were at least four other incidents within the previous year at the multiplex where disputes among patrons escalated into fights. The plaintiffs also testified that the fight in this lawsuit lasted for 15 to 20 minutes. One of the plaintiffs screamed for help during the entire altercation.

As this case shows, a successful premises liability case may rely on obtaining and proving very specific facts. Obtaining prompt legal assistance can help victims of or landlord negligence or reckless behavior who seek compensation for serious injuries and other losses. Legal representation can help plaintiffs protect their rights in settlement negotiations and legal proceedings.