Court Discusses a Massachusetts Property Owner’s Duty to Protect Harm Caused by Third Parties

Property owners have a duty to keep their property reasonably safe for those that enter the property, and they can be held liable for harm caused when they breach their duty. While the majority of premises liability claims arise out of slip and fall accidents, a property owner can be held liable for other dangerous conditions that cause a person harm. There are limits to the liability, however, as discussed in a recent case ruled on by the Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk, in a case in which a shooting victim brought a premises liability claim against the operators of the housing development where the shooting occurred. If you were injured on another person’s property it is prudent to meet with a seasoned Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss the facts out of which your harm arose and whether you may be able to recover damages.

Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the plaintiff’s decedent was standing on a public sidewalk when she was shot in a drive-by shooting. The decedent was paralyzed as a result of the shooting and ultimately died from her injuries. The plaintiff, decedent’s estate, filed a lawsuit against the defendants, who were the entities that owned the housing development that was adjacent to where the victim was shot. The lawsuit alleged that the defendants negligently failed to provide adequate security in the area and failed to warn the decedent of the dangers present in that area. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment which the trial court granted. The plaintiff appealed.

A Property Owner’s Duty to Prevent Harm

In order to succeed on a negligence claim in Massachusetts, the plaintiff must first establish the existence of a duty. whether a duty exists is a question of law, resolved by referring to prevailing social values and customs and public policy. The duty imposed on property owners is the duty of reasonable care towards all people who are lawfully on the premises. In some cases, the duty can extend to protecting people lawfully on the property from criminal acts of third parties. A landowner only has a duty to protect a person from the criminal acts of other people if there is a special relationship between the landowner and the person.

In the subject case, the court found that there was no special relationship between the decedent and the defendants. The decedent did not lease any property in the defendants’ housing development, and the decedent was not on property owned by the defendants at the time of the shooting. Rather, she was on property owned by the city. The court noted that a property owner does not have any duty with respect to a public sidewalk adjacent to its property, other than to refrain from creating a dangerous condition. The court also declined to recognize a duty to warn the decedent of drive-by shootings. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Discuss Your Potential Claims with a Skilled Personal Injury Attorney

If you were injured on property owned by an entity or another person you may be able to pursue compensation from the property owner and you should discuss your potential claims with a skilled Massachusetts personal injury attorney. The assertive attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan will work tirelessly to help you seek a favorable result. You can contact us through our form online or at 508-822-6600 to set up a consultation to discuss your case.