Fritzy Rivera v. Cherry Hill Towers, LLC.: Liability of Property Managers in Personal Injury Cases
Docket No. A-2394-21
Decided December 12, 2022
Submitted by New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent published opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided defendant’s appeal from an order denying the property manager, Vikco’s, motion for summary judgment to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint.
Cherry Hill Towers is comprised of apartment units in two separate buildings that are fully enclosed by a security gate with one central entrance point and three exits. Defendant Vikco was the property manager of the complex for approximately 18 years prior to the sale in October 2018. Seventeen days after the new property manager took over, plaintiff’s estranged husband drove through the open security gate at 11:30 p.m. and was waiting for plaintiff to leave the complex after she was done visiting a friend. When plaintiff went to the parking lot, her estranged husband confronted her and shot her three times. After the hours of 7 p.m. on weekdays and 5 p.m. on Saturdays, the gate was supposed to be closed with access restricted to residents only.
Plaintiff alleged that defendant Vikco, Inc. failed to provide her with a safe environment as property manager of the Cherry Hill Towers apartment complex when she was shot by her estranged husband when leaving her friend’s apartment. Plaintiff argues defendant’s negligence in leaving an open gate to the property was the proximate cause of her being injured. Plaintiff stated that the opened security gate was a practice established by Vikco and continued by the new property management company. Vikco was not the property manager when plaintiff’s estranged husband accessed Cherry Hill Towers through an open security gate.
Following discovery, defendant Vikco filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that it could not be held liable for plaintiff’s assault since it had no control over security at Cherry Hill Towers when she was assaulted, and that plaintiff’s assault was so particularized to her it was not foreseeable. The motion court denied defendant’s motion. The court articulated that there was a genuine issue of material fact to be determined by the jury as to whether Vikco owed Rivera a duty to provide a safe environment at Cherry Hill Towers when Vikco was not the property manager at the time of the shooting. The court noted that a jury could find that, during its time as property manager, Vikco knew about significant criminal activity occurring at Cherry Hill Towers but did not prevent it. Defendant appealed.
On appeal, defendant Vikco contended that the motion court erred by concluding that the question of whether it owed a duty to plaintiff was for the jury to determine and that it owed no duty to plaintiff when she was assaulted because it was no longer property manager at the time. Plaintiff argued that the court’s decision found Vikco owed her a duty, and the jury would determine whether it breached that duty. The Appellate Court of New Jersey ruled that whether Vikco owed plaintiff a duty is a question of law that should have been determined by the motion court, not by a jury at trial. Although the court did find that it was foreseeable that failing to secure the premises would allow people with criminal intentions to enter the apartment complex unabated would create a risk to tenants and their guests, the court found that under the circumstances, NJ common law does not support plaintiff’s theory that Vikco’s duty to provide security at Cherry Hill Towers continued after its management services were discontinued. Thus, because Vikco owed no duty to plaintiff when she was assaulted, it was entitled to summary judgment.
At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed matter pertaining to liability of property managers in personal injury cases. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome in their case as a result.
We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation to that of the plaintiff in this case, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington, Haddon Heights, Pine Hill, Bellmawr, Haddon Township, Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.