Thursday, February 20, 2003
Landlord Has Duty to Protect Tenants From Each Other When Attack Is Foreseeable, Court of Appeal Says
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A landlord has a duty to protect tenants from foreseeable assaults by other residents, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The justices reinstated a suit by Hamida Madhani, a Los Angeles resident seeking to hold her former landlords, Glenn and Sheryl Cooper, responsible for injuries she received when another tenant, Yvonne Moore, threw her down a flight of stairs. Madhani complained that the Coopers took no action against Moore despite numerous complaints that the woman had attacked Madhani and her mother on several occasions.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lorna Parnell granted the Coopers’ motion for summary judgment. “Unfortunately, disputes between tenants are not uncommon,” the judge said.
But Justice Earl Johnson Jr., writing for Div. Seven, said the plaintiff’s evidence showed the assault was foreseeable, and that the Coopers had a duty to prevent it.
The justice cited testimony that Moore had yelled profanities at, and had assaulted, Madhani and her mother, without provocation, on several occasions. Madhani had complained to the building managers many times, and had been told that they were “working on this,” Johnson noted.
In a footnote, Johnson pointed out that the Coopers did not contend they had taken any action regarding the complaints.
“It is difficult to imagine a case in which the foreseeability of harm could be more clear,” the justice wrote. “We are not dealing here with an isolated incident or extraordinary behavior on the part of Moore. Through their agents, the building managers, the landlords knew or should have known Moore had engaged in repeated acts of assault and battery against Madhani as well as her mother.”
Under California law, the justice explained, injury is reasonably foreseeable if it “is likely enough in the setting of modern life that a reasonably thoughtful [person] would take account of it in guiding practical conduct.” The plaintiff’s evidence meets that standard, Johnson concluded.
“In contrast to the trial court’s view, we do not believe a reasonably thoughtful landlord would accept as commonplace the repeated verbal and physical abuse of one tenant by another, but would act to put an end to such occurrences,” Johnson said.
Other factors besides foreseeability support the court’s conclusion that the landlords had a duty to protect Madhani from Moore, Johnson said, citing a Court of Appeal ruling that a landlord could be held liable for an attack by a tenant’s dog when the landlord had knowledge of the animal’s vicious propensities and took no action to get rid of the tenant or to force the tenant to get rid of the dog.
“Surely a similar rule should apply when it is the tenant herself who has the vicious propensity,” Johnson wrote.
West Los Angeles sole practitioner Charles O. Agege represented the plaintiff on appeal. E. Susie Wendorff of King & Kennick in Huntington Beach represented the landlord.
The case is Madhani v. Cooper, B153197.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company