Landlords owe duty to reasonably expedite police involvement

08/05/2013

In Bailey v Schaaf, released July 30, 2013, Michigan’s Supreme Court considered the liability of a landlord who hired a security guard company whose guards busied themselves handling an intoxicated person and allegedly ignored a report about someone brandishing a gun and threatening to kill. Bailey was shot and seriously injured.

The trial court granted summary disposition on the negligence part of plaintiff’s case. Michigan’s Court of Appeals reversed that ruling. A 5-member majority agreed with the Court of Appeals result on the negligence count and explained why. When it comes to these so-called “third-party” criminal act cases, where someone who doesn’t do the crime will pay for it, landlord-tenant law will now track the duty owed by merchants. Some thought that groundbreaking Michigan cases from the 1970s would cause the Supreme Court would be more generous to plaintiffs, as Justice Cavanagh would have been. Some thought that the Supreme Court should rein in this kind of liability, as Justice Markman would have done. Instead, a landlord’s duty is the same duty owed by merchants.

When a landlord is “confronted with imminent criminal acts occurring on the premises under the landlord’s control,” it has a “duty to respond.” But that duty “requires only that a landlord make reasonable efforts to expedite police involvement.” “Notice is critical” to deciding “whether a landlord’s duty is triggered; without notice that alerts the landlord to a risk of imminent harm, it may continue to presume that individuals on the premises will not violate the criminal law.” And a landlord has no duty to respond to “criminal acts occurring within the leasehold of the tenant.” That’s because “the landlord’s duty arises only when the triggering conduct occurs in those areas under the landlord’s control.”


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