A premises liability lawsuit that ended with a $2 million settlement for the plaintiff – the mother of a 12-year-old girl who was murdered by a sex offender living at a Pensacola, Florida apartment complex – underscores how owners and managers of multi-unit properties should never turn a blind eye to people who may be living on the property off-lease.

Shantara Hurry sued the owner and manager of the Pensacola apartment complex where she lived, alleging her daughter Naomi Jones would not have died at the hands of a convicted sex offender had the defendants taken action to sort the residents who were living there legally from the ones who weren’t, according to Law.com.

Naomi was abducted on May 31, 2017, when she stepped outside the apartment to retrieve a dog toy. Her body was discovered in a nearby creek five days later.

Her accused killer, Robert Howard, is currently awaiting trial for Naomi’s death in Escambia County, Florida. In 1999, he was convicted of two counts of rape in neighboring Escambia County, Alabama, and served 15 years in a state prison.

According to Law.com, Howard confessed in a police interview to killing Naomi but has pleaded not guilty in court to the murder charges.

A resident of Alabama, Howard had been living off and on at the apartment complex with his girlfriend for more than a year. The apartment where he was staying was nearly adjacent to the one where Naomi lived with her family, according to NorthEscambia.com.

Naomi’s mother sued Aspen Village Acquisition LLC, the owner of the apartment complex , and management company Progressive Management of America Inc. in 2018. She alleged her daughter wouldn’t have been murdered had the owner and manager not ignored the presence of people living in the apartment complex illegally.

To demonstrate the security problems at the complex, Ms. Hurry’s lawyers hired investigators who interviewed dozens of former and current Aspen Village residents. According to Law.com, the lawyers said that all of the residents they talked with recognized Howard as someone who was on the premises day and night, “whose car was always parked there with out-of-state Alabama plates.”

A former maintenance professional who used to work at Aspen Village told investigators that he had warned management that 30%-40% of the people living in the complex were off-lease. Ms. Hurry’s lawyers told Law.com that not looking into the problem was like “flipping a coin as to whether your people will be safe.”

Lawyers said the problem was so obvious and easily resolvable that no security guards or cameras were necessary. Had the property managers looked into who was living at the complex with the out-of-state car, they could have simply Googled Howard’s name and seen that he is a pedophile, Ms. Hurry’s counsel told Law.com.

The owner of the Aspen Village apartment complex agreed to pay $2 million to settle the case. The management company reached a confidential agreement with Ms. Hurry later.

Negligent security cases normally take the form of shootings, fights, stabbings, or other physical violence (including sexual assault) where severe injury or death occurs due to the establishment owner’s failure to take reasonable safety measures. When this occurs, the establishment owner, as well as those contractors charged with security, may be held responsible for the injuries suffered by individuals or groups of individuals on the premises. For more information about these types of cases, contact Parker Miller or Donovan Potter, lawyers in our Atlanta office.

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