A public housing authority can be sued for negligence by the family of a tenant who was shot and killed by another tenant, the Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled in reversing a summary judgment. The plaintiffs' father lived in an apartment complex owned by the Memphis Housing Authority. He was shot and killed when a tenant with a history of violent attacks on other tenants fired a rifle at private security guards.
The plaintiffs sued for wrongful death, alleging that the housing authority was negligent in failing to provide adequate security. In particular, the plaintiffs alleged that the housing authority was negligent in failing to screen out a tenant with a history of violence and in failing to ensure that he did not possess a firearm.
The housing authority argued that it had no duty to protect tenants from the criminal acts of other tenants.
But the court disagreed, explaining that a "landlord and tenant qualify as having a special relationship. Further, violence in a housing project is, generally speaking, foreseeable. ... In consequence, precautions are warranted. ...
"The question, of course, is whether [the housing authority], with some general knowledge of criminal activity within its housing complexes and a particular knowledge of [the other tenant's] altercation with another tenant four years earlier, could have reasonably foreseen the probability of a violent act. We think so. Indeed, the risk of violent attack at a housing project is nothing new. The potential for violence in the [apartment complex] was, therefore, generally foreseeable by the landlord. "
Tennessee Supreme Court. Giggers v. Memphis Housing Authority, No. W2006-00304-SC-R11-CV. Feb. 3, 2009. Lawyers USA Nos. 993-443 (majority) and 993-444 (concurrence/dissent).
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