Homeowners: Do You Have a Duty To Protect People From Harm By Others?

To succeed on a claim for negligence, a claimant must demonstrate that a defendant (i.e. landlord, property owner, other driver, etc.) owes a duty of reasonable care to the claimant, breached that duty, resulting in damages caused by such breach. Jupin v. Kusk, 447 Mass. 141, 146 (2006). Also, the existence of a duty is a question of law for a judge to decide as a preliminary matter Leavitt v. Brockton Hosp., Inc., 454 Mass. 37, 40 (2009). A duty generally does not exist, absent a “special relationship,” in terms of taking affirmative steps to protect against dangerous or unlawful acts of third persons.

In a recent SJC decision, Heath-Latson v. Styller, Mass. (SJC- 12917: June 7, 2021, the SJC ruled that a property owner who rented a house to an individual for a college reunion had no affirmative duty to an individual who was shot and killed at the party. The court reasoned that there was nothing in the factual scenario to impose a duty to protect nor anything about the event which would have made the shooting foreseeable. Also, the homeowner had no control over the premises during the rental period, as the homeowner gave the individual sole and exclusive possession of the residence for a three-day period with no visits, monitoring or supervision. In this age of Airbnb’s and house rentals, especially with people wanting to vacation in light of the of COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, renters should be ever vigilant.

Author: Barry M. Ryan, Esq.