The Florida Supreme Court recently upheld a $4.5 million verdict stemming from a tragic double murder in an apartment complex that happened in late 2004. The survivors of the slain victims sued the landlord and owner of the company because of negligent upkeep of the security features the property owners boasted to its patrons.
The High Court took the case on because of a perceived conflict in how Florida’s District Courts of Appeal viewed premises liability law. Typically the Florida Supreme Court will not take on a case unless a district court of appeals decision conflicts with a supreme court decision or other district court.
This latest ruling is one of many large verdicts that Florida Courts have upheld recently. Combined with rulings on the constitutionality of Florida’s medical malpractice caps, the court is increasingly defending the rights of victims injured due to negligence. This is good news for victims trying to ensure they are justly compensated for the negligent acts of others.
What Happened in This Case
This case was truly tragic. A brother and sister were home in their apartment in what was held to be a gated community with several security and safety features. During the night in late 2004, someone came into their home and shot both of them to death. They had only lived in the apartments for a year when this tragedy befell them.
The company that owned and managed the property advertised the apartment complex as a gated community. To provide security, the company provided security cameras and a wall or gate surrounding the property to keep intruders out. In the years leading up to this tragic event, the property saw an increase in criminal activity happen to residents living there.
At trial, the plaintiffs showed that in the three years before the murder there were separate instances where the property’s security gate was broken, and criminals followed residents into the complex to commit crimes. In addition, the plaintiffs showed that there were twenty criminal acts that happened on the property leading up to the double-murder in question. Even following these incidents, the company did not fix the gate or update the security measures on the property.
The primary argument of the survivors in this case was that the company was negligent for not fixing the security gate, and therefore responsible for the murders. They took this argument all the way to a jury and got a $4.5 million dollar verdict, with the property company being forty percent responsible. The appeals court took away the verdict and ruled in favor of the company, and the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court of Florida.
Court’s Ruling and Reasoning
The Supreme Court overturned the ruling of the 4th District Court of Appeal and ruled that the verdict would stand. The crux of the appellate decision was that it was not shown at trial that the negligent act of not fixing the gate actually caused the murder to happen. The supreme court disagreed because they did put on evidence from expert witness showing that the crime was an opportunistic crime that happened in part because the gate was broken.
When it comes to premises liability cases under Florida law, there are many issues that must be proven before a victim can recover. That is why it is so important to stay on top of legal developments like this one and apply them to future cases as they happen. At The Pittman Firm we serve victims who are injured because of property owner’s negligence, and we keep up with all the legal developments in this area of law. Contact us so we can review your case and provide you with your legal options.