In what authorities call a “ridiculous consequence of gun violence,” a stray bullet apparently struck a young girl at a Churchill Downs apartment complex.
Investigators have no clues or leads in the case. Officers responding to a shots-fired call in the 3200 block of Utah Avenue discovered a wounded 6-year-old girl. Emergency responders, who do not believe the shooter or shooters intentionally targeted the girl or her family, rushed the girl to a nearby hospital with serious injuries.
2020 was a record-breaking year for homicides, shootings, and other violent crimes in Louisville.
Legal Responsibility of Apartment Complex Owners
When tragedies like this one occur, especially a few days before Christmas, it is natural to find someone to blame. The apartment complex owner is clearly not to blame. S/he was not even there. However, the apartment complex owner could be financially responsible for this family’s high medical bills, incomprehensible emotional distress, and other economic and noneconomic losses.
Unfortunately, no one can turn back the hands of time and reverse what happened. Financial compensation, which enables the family to carry on, is the next best thing.
Accidents like this one often involve negligent security. Because they have several different layers, these claims are among the most complex matters which Lexington personal injury attorneys handle.
Legal responsibility is the first layer. This responsibility typically depends on the relationship between the victim and apartment complex owner, as follows:
- Apartment Residents: These individuals are invitees. Residents have permission to be on the property (they have leases) and they benefit the owner (they pay rent). As a result, the owner has a duty of reasonable care. This duty includes a responsibility to provide adequate security. More on that below.
- Invited Apartment Guests: In Kentucky, these individuals are normally licensees. Guests have permission to be on the land, but their presence does not benefit the owner. So, owners only have a responsibility to tell these people about latent (hidden) property defects.
- Uninvited Guests: People are trespassers if they do not have permission to be on the land and there is no duty. Examples include party crashes and children who swim in pools clearly designated for residents and guests. Generally, owners owe no duty to adult trespassers. Certain legal doctrines, like the attractive nuisance doctrine, protect child trespassers. A swimming pool is an attractive nuisance. So is playground equipment or a large dirt mound.
Knowledge of Hazard
Theoretical responsibility is not enough to establish liability for damages. Attorneys must also establish practical responsibility, which in this case is knowledge of the hazard which caused the injury.
As mentioned, owners have a duty to provide security not just for residents, but for anyone who comes there. Examples of security lapses include:
- Burned out outdoor safety lights, such as parking lot lights,
- Malfunctioning cameras,
- Propped-open or malfunctioning security gates,
- Burned out indoor lights, such as hall lights, and
- Security guard’s missed shift.
In some cases, a lack of security, as opposed to a lapse in security, caused the injury. Live security is a good example. Some owners have a duty to station armed guards at checkpoints or have armed guards patrol the complex. Other owners have almost no duty at all in this area. The answer usually depends on foreseeability, which is the third and final layer in these claims.
Victim/plaintiffs must establish knowledge of the defect by a preponderance of the proof (more likely than not). Evidence of knowledge includes safety reports and resident complaints about a lack of security.
The victim’s status is not the only duty-related inquiry. The complex itself, as well as the area surrounding the complex, is relevant as well.
Prior similar incidents at that location clearly indicate foreseeability. The prior incident does not necessarily have to be a prior shooting. Violent arguments and even loud arguments could make an incident like a shooting a foreseeable incident. Other indications include residents who keep guns, either legally or illegally, and a volatile mixture of residents, such as ethnic groups who often do not get along well.
Prior incidents in the area, as well as the area’s reputation as a “high crime area,” could also indicate foreseeability.
Foreseeability is related to duty because the nature of the threat determines. In part, the nature of the owner’s response. Frequently, passive deterrence, like fences and cameras, is sufficient. But if a treat is foreseeable, active deterrence, like live security, is usually required.
Apartment owners are responsible for the safety of apartment residents and guests. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.