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Verdict against Florida “Gated Community” Apartment Complex after Residents’ Murder Upheld on Appeal – Sanders v. ERP Operating Limited Partnership

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Could it be that a false sense of security is worse than no security at all? Two siblings who moved into a “gated community” surrounded by water, walls, and fences in 2004 assumed that they were safe from murderers and thieves. After all, the apartment complex claimed to provide reasonable lighting, locks, and peepholes, and the apartments had alarm systems. Unfortunately, the siblings were far from safe.

According to the personal representative’s appellate brief in the case of Sanders v. ERP Operating Limited Partnership, the siblings were murdered in 2005 while living at the Gatehouse on the Greens apartment complex located in Plantation, Florida. The complex consisted of over 300 apartments located in a dozen buildings. In all, it was home to approximately 1,000 residents.

Proceedings in the Trial Court

The lawsuit filed against the owner of the complex by the siblings’ personal representative alleged that the siblings’ death was caused by the complex’s negligent failure to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. Specifically, the personal representative claimed that the complex did not maintain the front gate, failed to have adequate security, did not prevent dangerous persons from gaining access to the premises, and failed to protect and warn residents of dangerous conditions and criminal acts.

The case was tried in front of a jury. During the trial, the complex asked for a directed verdict on the grounds that the personal representative had failed to show proximate cause between the complex’s alleged negligence and the siblings’ deaths. The motion was denied. Ultimately, the jury found the complex to be 40% at fault in the siblings’ death and awarded damages of $4.5 million. The complex sought a new trial or a judgment notwithstanding the verdict but was denied such relief by the trial court.

The Intermediate Appellate Court’s Decision

The Court of Appeal for the Fourth District reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that the complex was entitled to a directed verdict. According to the court of appeal, the personal representative failed in her burden of proof on the issue of causation because she was unable to show how the murderers gained entry into the siblings’ apartment.

On Appeal to the Florida Supreme Court

The state supreme court quashed the Fourth District’s order and remanded the case to the trail court. The court so held because it found that the personal representative had presented evidence to support a finding that, more likely than not, the complex’s actions substantially contributed to the siblings’ deaths. The court relied in part on the 2013 case of Friedrich v. Fetterman & Associates, P.A., which pertained to the procedure for an appellate court’s review of a trial court’s decision regarding a directed verdict. In that case, the court had held that the intermediate appellate court had impermissibly reweighed the testimony of the expert witnesses during trial. In the current case, the court reiterated that a directed verdict is appropriate only when no proper view of the evidence could sustain a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party.

South Florida Wrongful Death Attorneys Now Accepting Cases

If you have lost a loved one to the carelessness, negligence, or recklessness of a person or business, you need a dedicated, aggressive law firm on your side as you pursue damages for your loved one’s wrongful death. The attorneys at Cohn & Smith, P.A. have decades of combined experience representing the rights of injured people and the families of those who have been killed through the wrongful actions of others. To schedule an appointment to discuss your case, call (954)431-8100 or contact us through this website. Our South Florida law practice includes representation of injured people and families in North Dade County, Hollywood, and Fort Lauderdale.

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