- October 27, 2021
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Wrongful Death
Wrongful death lawsuits are often associated with accidents — scenarios where someone died solely because of a product malfunction, medical malpractice, or some other serious but unintentional wrongdoing. Surviving family members are less likely think of this option when their deceased loved one was the victim of a crime, but criminal homicide is, by definition, a form of wrongful death. It’s a death caused by the wrongful actions of another.
The most obvious person at fault in a shooting death is, of course, the shooter. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help the survivors much, because individual assailants usually can’t afford to pay for a wrongful death settlement. However, in many cases, property owners are also responsible for creating environments that are conducive to crime, and can be held liable for the harm this causes to families.
Georgia Residents Are Frequently Shot and Killed in Their Own Apartment Homes
Not a month goes by without another tragic example surfacing. In mid-September, police responded to a report of a late-night shooting at the St. Ives Crossing Apartments in Stockbridge. By the time they arrived at 305 St Ives Crossing, two people were dead. Most of the details of this case are either not known or not yet released, including the names of the victims, though police say the incident is still under investigation.
Just three weeks later, a maintenance worker at the Highland Village Apartments in Clarkston discovered a resident, Laron Benjamin, dead in his apartment, apparently from a gunshot wound. The apartment complex, located at 3890 E Ponce de Leon Ave, is sizeable and close to both a commercial complex and more residential properties, but no one reported the initial shot.
Nothing will bring these victims back, but too often, families affected by gun violence just accept that they must live with the financial burden of their loss on top of the emotional devastation. In many cases, these survivors actually have grounds to sue the property management companies that left their loved ones vulnerable.
Apartment Complex Landlords Are Responsible for Providing Adequate Security
As a default, one person or entity is not responsible for the criminal actions of another. However, landlords do have a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to address any known dangers to tenants. In situations where gun violence is a known danger, and a landlord fails to take reasonable steps, the landlord becomes responsible for the effects of that violence.
At an absolute minimum, all apartment landlords should provide working door locks and consistently good lighting in common areas. Unless a neighborhood is statistically extremely safe, gates and surveillance cameras are usually reasonable precautions as well. When present, these features should be kept in working order.
If warning signs of gun violence are present — such as a history of gun violence in the complex or neighboring complexes — it’s appropriate for a landlord to:
- Employ a round-the-clock security staff
- Evict tenants who make violent threats against others or handle firearms in an illegal/irresponsible manner.
- Assure tenants that they will receive support, not retaliation, for reporting criminal violence and credible threats.
Like so many types of tragedies, shooting deaths in apartment complexes are often enabled by cold business logic. Providing adequate security is an investment on a landlord’s part. Skimping on it is a way of padding profits in the short-term, at the expense of tenant safety. This only works, however, because so few families realize they have the power to hold their lost loved ones’ landlords financially accountable.
Doing this not only gives you the resources to work through this difficult time with fewer practical worries; it helps incentivize the multifamily housing industry to protect other renters.
If you are the next of kin of Laron Benjamin, either of the St. Ives Crossing victims, or any other victim of apartment complex gun violence in Georgia, reach out to The Stoddard Firm to learn more about how we can help.