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Sottile v. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

A-6121-03T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

LEASES; SECURITY—A landlord may not be held liable for unforeseeable criminal activity on the premises if the lease agreement provides that the tenant is solely responsible for providing security.

A man worked as a ticket agent for an airline company at the airport. While on duty, the man had a physical altercation with a passenger at a boarding gate and sustained serious injuries as a result of the incident. He filed an action against the passenger for assault which was later dismissed. He also filed negligence actions against the airport owner who leased space within the airport to the airline, and the security company that was hired by the airline. The man asserted that the airport owner was negligent for not providing adequate security. He also claimed that the security company was negligent in performing its contractual duties. All parties moved for summary judgment. The lower court granted summary judgment for the airport owner based on the lease agreement between the airport owner and the airline. It ruled that the agreement expressly provided that the airline was solely responsible for providing security within the area of the airport that it leased. The court also granted summary judgment in favor of the security company on the basis that the physical altercation between the man and the passenger was not foreseeable. The court denied the man’s summary judgment application and the man appealed. On appeal, the man argued that he established a viable cause of action against the airport owner. In support of this argument, he asserted that the airport owner had a non-delegable duty to provide a reasonably safe environment for its invitees, the airport owner controlled the airport premises, and the altercation was foreseeable and therefore actionable. The man further contended that the lower court erred in granting the security company’s motion for summary judgment.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling. In reaching its decision, the Court discussed the elements of a negligence cause of action. It held that in order to establish a negligence claim, the man was required to show: 1) a duty was owed by him by both the airport owner and the security company; 2) the airport owner and security company breached that duty; and 3) the breach of duty was the proximate cause of his injuries. The Court ruled that the man failed to establish a negligence cause of action against the airport owner because pursuant to the lease agreement with the airline, the airport owner had no duty to provide security. As to the security company, the Court held that the service agreement between the security company and the airline did not require the company to provide security at the gates where the incident took place. It further ruled that the security company could not be held negligent because the altercation was not foreseeable. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the lower court’s summary judgment determinations in favor of the airline owner and the security company.


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