When You Can Pursue a Massachusetts Property Owner for Injuries Caused by a Third-Party Assault

In Massachusetts, a property owner has a legal duty to those on their property to maintain it in a reasonably safe condition. While many people may associate this obligation with maintaining the property in a hazard-free condition to avoid trip-and-fall and slip-and-fall accidents, the duty actually goes beyond just that. One of the other obligations property owners have is to keep visitors to the property free from harm by certain third-party assaults. When a property owner fails to do so, and you suffer injuries as a result, you may have a claim against that property owner. An experienced Massachusetts premises liability attorney can help you assess your situation and the merits of your case.

An example of this type of scenario was a federal case that recently went before the First Circuit Court of Appeals, whose rulings affect federal cases in Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Puerto Rico. In the case, the plaintiff, Henry, lived in a condominium complex that was attached to a luxury hotel in downtown Providence. This residence came with access to the hotel’s services and amenities. One night, while waiting outside for his girlfriend, Henry noticed a large group of boisterous young people who were going in and out of the hotel’s entry area. At one point, the group appeared to chase and potentially attack an African-American passer-by.

Henry told a valet to get help, but the valet told Henry, “That’s not my problem” and went to go park a car. Henry retreated to the hotel lobby. He informed the hotel concierge of the problem, but before she could act, the mob attacked Henry. They punched, shoved, and kicked him. They held him down while one threw a table at him. In the end, Henry suffered a broken arm in the attack.

Henry then sued the hotel for negligence. One of the key things any injured person needs to demonstrate to the court, in order to pursue a negligence case like Henry’s, is that the events that led to the injury were reasonably foreseeable. That’s because the property owner is only legally obligated to guard against reasonably foreseeable hazards, rather than all hazards. As the courts have explained in past decisions, “foreseeability is the ‘linchpin in determining the existence of any duty.’”

When you are trying to make this showing to the court, you are not required to prove that the specific type of harm was foreseeable, just that harm in general was foreseeable as a result of the property owner’s misconduct or failure to act. In other words, Henry wasn’t required to prove that an occupant of the hotel lobby slamming a table onto his arm was foreseeable, only that a physical attack was a foreseeable consequence of the hotel’s failure to deal with the mob properly.

According to the First Circuit’s ruling, Henry sufficiently established that. The issue of foreseeability is not a static thing; it can change as underlying factual events change. In other words, in Henry’s case, that someone on the hotel property might be a victim of violence perpetrated by a mob arguably was not foreseeable at first, but it definitely became foreseeable after the mob chased and possibly attacked the African-American passer-by. “An observer of this sequence of events would not be shocked to discover that the group ended up getting in an altercation with someone in the” hotel lobby, the court wrote in ruling in favor of the injured man. In other words, after that chase, the danger became foreseeable, and the hotel’s failure to act potentially created liability.

If you’ve been attacked while on a business’ property, you may have a case for compensation. Perhaps the lighting was insufficient. Perhaps the security was inadequate. Whatever the reason, the law may give you recourse. Contact experienced Plymouth County premises liability lawyer Michael S. Mehrmann right away. Our team is proud to have assisted injured people from across Plymouth County, including in Kingston, Plymouth, Marshfield, Hanson, Carver, Pembroke, and Duxbury. To find out more about how we can help you, call (781) 585-3911 or contact us online.