Can Michigan landlords and businesses be held liable for the criminal activity of others?
Devon Bailey attended a social gathering in the common area of an apartment complex, where security guards were patrolling the area. During the event, a resident informed the security guards that an individual was brandishing a revolver and threatening to kill. The security guards did not respond. Thereafter, the individual shot Mr. Bailey twice in his back, rendering Mr. Bailey a paraplegic. He then sued the owner and operator of the apartment complex. After appeals, the Michigan Supreme Court held landlords have a duty to respond to potential criminal activity in common areas (i.e., areas controlled by the landlord), when something happens that would cause a reasonable person to recognize a risk of imminent harm. See Bailey v. Schaaf, 494 Mich. 595, 615; 835 N.W.2d 413 (2013). The court further held that if and when a duty to respond is triggered -- a fact-specific question (so every case will be different) -- a landlord is only required to expedite police involvement.
The holding in Bailey is not limited to landlord-tenant situations. Recently, the Michigan Court of Appeals analyzed whether a bar owner acted reasonably when it failed to call the police during a two-hour period leading up to a shooting outside the bar. See Tillman v. Perfect Pitcher Sports Pub, Inc., unpublished per curiam of the Michigan Court of Appeals, Docket No. 328520 (Dec. 6, 2016). The plaintiff submitted evidence showing that there was widespread criminal activity inside the bar and there had been at least two altercations on the night of the shooting. The appellate court held the trial court erred by dismissing the case, finding there remained issues of material fact regarding whether the bar should have called the police earlier.
The above is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a complete or exhaustive summary of the duties owed by landlords and business owners with respect to criminal activity. Moreover, the appropriate or best strategy will depend on the facts of each case. Thus, readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional advice.