Business Torts & Ethics
Standing alone, the intruder is liable for his or her actions. The intruder is liable for a number of crimes independent of the landowner’s liability. While the landowner may be held liable as well, the intruder is most definitely liable for his intentional torts committed against Darryl and Sharon. Simply because the intruder committed the torts on the landowner’s property does not excuse the intruder from personal liability. The intruder is potentially liable for a number of different torts.
The intruder can be charged with burglary. While burglary is a tort, not a crime, the intruder has committed the offense all the same. At common law, the crime of burglary was defined as “the breaking and entering of the dwelling of another in the night time with the intent to commit a felony therein” (Nolan and Sartorio, 2015, § 401). The intruder committed burglary under these facts by the act of forcing the lock on the sliding glass door and entering the apartment. While many states have amended the common law definition requiring the offense to occur “in the night time” to also include daytime break ins, the intruder entered the apartment at night, so the common law definition of burglary is satisfied.
The intruder is also liable for the tort of trespass. The elements of trespass include 1) an interference with a possessory interest in the plaintiff’s property, 2) through the defendant’s physical act or force against that property, 3) which was executed without the plaintiff’s consent (Royal Investment Group, LLC v. Wang, 2008, p. 688). Since the intruder forced the lock on the door and entered Sharon’s apartment without her consent, the intruder is liable for the tort of trespass. It is undisputed that Sharon did not invite the intruder into her apartment, and he entered through means of force.
The intruder is also liable in tort for assault and battery of both Darryl and Sharon. In fighting the intruder off, both of them sustained substantial physical injuries. Assault is the “unlawful threat to do bodily harm to another with present ability to carry the threat into effect” (Kohlman, 2015, § 2). According to the Restatement of Torts, a defendant commits an assault when the defendant 1) acts intending to cause a harmful or offensive contact with the person of the plaintiff or a third party, 2) thereby putting the plaintiff in imminent apprehension of such contact (Kohlman, 2015, § 2). While words alone are insufficient to constitute an assault, a threat accompanied by violence rises to the level of assault. Thus, by forcing the door to the apartment open and threatening Darryl and Sharon, the intruder is liable for assault.
The intruder is also liable for the offense of battery. A battery occurs when there is intentional bodily contact that is either harmful or offensive (White v. University of Idaho, 1989, p. 565). Thus, a battery takes place when there is actual touching or physical contact. Because Darryl and Sharon were physically injured by the intruder, the intruder is liable for battery. The intruder committed battery through physical contact with Darryl and Sharon, physical contact which necessarily resulted in their injuries.
The owner of a building may also be liable for torts committed by 3rd parties. As the owner, it is possible that I would incur liability for the injuries that Darryl and Sharon sustained from the intruder. While a landlord or apartment owner does not have a duty to prevent all possible injuries on the premises, the owner does have a general duty to keep the premises reasonable safe. The owner’s legal duty to tenants is to exercise reasonable are under the circumstances (Tedder v. Raskin, 1987, p. 348). Thus, when an owner fails to exercise reasonable care and a tenant is injured on the premises, an owner will be liable.
Whether an apartment owner is liable for injuries caused by 3rd parties is a more difficult issue. An owner’s liability in this instant hinges on whether the injury was reasonably foreseeable (Tedder v. Raskin, 1987, p. 349). If it were reasonable foreseeable that an intruder would break the lock on the sliding glass door of the ground floor apartment and harm the tenant, then the owner is liable. However, if it was not reasonably foreseeable, the intruder’s criminal conduct will be viewed as a superseding, intervening cause of harm and will relieve the owner of any liability to the injured parties (Tedder v. Raskin, 1987, p. 349).
Given these set of facts, there is no indication that the owner was on notice that an intruder would break the lock on the sliding door harm a tenant inside her apartment. There are no facts to indicate that this apartment building has experienced a crime problem to place the owner on notice that break ins and forced entries into apartments were prevalent. If the owner was aware that the lock on the sliding glass door in Sharon’s apartment was deficient, yet did nothing to fix the problem, then this would be a different case. But there is no evidence that the owner knew that the locks could be easily forced open or that the doors were not reasonably safe. Thus, in this case, the owner is most likely not legally liable for Sharon and Darryl’s injuries inflicted by the intruder.
While there is no foolproof way to prevent any and all accidents or injuries, there are a number of ways that apartment owners can mitigate the risk of potential torts. One possibility way for the owner to mitigate risks is to make safety improvements to the apartment complex. It is obvious that ground floor apartments are the easiest apartments for intruders to break into. To mitigate the risk of intrusion, the owner could install new locks on all sliding glass doors at ground level. Other safety measures might include installing alarm systems in individual units, or improving the lighting around the building. While these safety measures cannot prevent all intruders and potential crimes from taking place, they can certainly reduce the risk of such crimes occurring. It also shows a good faith effort on the owner’s behalf that the owner took reasonable measures to guard against foreseeable harms.
Kohlman, R.J. (2015). Assault and Battery. American Jurisprudence of Facts.
Nolan, J.R. and Sartorio, L.J. (2015). § 401. Elements of burglary—in general.
Massachusetts Practice Series.
Royal Investment Group, LLC v. Wang, 183 Md.App. 406 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2008).
Tedder v. Raskin, 728 S.W.2d 343 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1987).
White v. University of Idaho, 115 Idaho 564 (Idaho Ct. App. 1989).