TRENTACOST, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT V. BRUSSEL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT. Supreme Ct. of NJ, 1980. 82 N.J. 214, 412 A.2d 436 by JohnMValentine


TRENTACOST, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT V. BRUSSEL, DEFENDANTAPPELLANT. Supreme Ct. of NJ, 1980. 82 N.J. 214, 412 A.2d 436. History: Trial court entered judgment for the tenant upon jury’s award of damages of $3000.00 (trial court granted Plaintiff’s motion to strike defense of contributory negligence); Trial court denied defendant’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict; When defendant refused to consent to an additur of $15,000, court granted Plaintiff’s motion for new trial as to damages; 2nd jury found damages for $25,000 Appellate Division affirmed Facts: Trentacost came home to her apt one afternoon; she came in her building and reached the top of a flight of stairs when someone grabbed her ankles from behind and dragged her down the stairs; her attacker (who remains unknown) left her bleeding on the ground floor hallway but came back to get her purse; she laid there until another tenant found her; another neighbor called police who took Trentacost to a hospital Building consisted of 8 dwelling units over street level w/access from front and rear entrances; a padlock secured the back entrance, but no lock on front door, which plaintiff and assailant used to enter premises Issue(s): Whether a landlord who provides inadequate security for common areas of rental premises may be liable for failing to prevent a criminal assault upon a tenant. Holding: Judgment of Appellant Division affirmed Analysis: Liability for Foreseeable Criminal Conduct: landlord can be held liable for creating an “unreasonable enhanced” risk of loss resulting from foreseeable criminal conduct; landlord was confronted w/high level of crime and failed to install a lock on front door leading to lobby Negligence is tested by whether the reasonably prudent person at the time/place should recognize and foresee an unreasonable risk or likelihood of harm or danger there; if the reasonably prudent person could foresee danger resulting from another’s voluntary criminal acts, just b/c those acts are beyond his control doesn’t mean he isn’t liable; foreseeability of harm, not fact of another’s intervention, is factor in determining “whether duty exists to take measures against criminal activity” Theories of Landlord Liability: in modern day, apt is not habitable unless it provides a reasonable measure of security from risk of criminal intrusion; implied warranty of habitability obliges landlord to furnish reasonable safeguards to protect tenants from foreseeable criminal activity; that area includes common areas, which are “vital to use of premises”

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