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Does the Government Have a (Special) Duty to Protect You?

You might expect that the government should manage its property so that it is safe to use – a duty which is regularly imposed on private property owners. If a city builds and maintains a park, providing lighting and security personnel to afford a safe environment, you would think that the municipality would be liable when these security provisions prove inadequate to protect a victim from an assault. Yet the courts continue to hold that a municipality is not liable when such an assault occurs unless the injured plaintiff can prove that the city owed a special duty to protect the plaintiff.

In Salone v. Town of Hempstead, the appellate court overturned a Nassau County trial court and held that the town of Hempstead in Long Island was not liable for inadequate security when a teen was beaten at a public park. According to the court, the town “owed no special duty” to the teen and had no specific duty to protect him.

Municipalities acting in the role of a property owner or landlord are subject to the same tort law principles as private landlords, but public entities are immune from negligence claims when they are performing their government functions, including police protection, unless the plaintiff can show a special relationship which created a specific duty to protect him or her.

In Salone, one park employee was on break and another was in the office when the attack occurred. The court held that questioning the adequacy of security resources implicates the governmental function of the municipality, and not its role as a property owner.

This concept was again cited by a Queens County court in Moreno v. Sports Leisure and Entertainment RPG, when a youth was assaulted during a soccer game at P.S. 214. This court cited a multi-factor test required to establish a “special duty,” including 1) assumption of an affirmative duty to protect the person, 2) knowledge by the municipality that inaction could lead to harm, 3) some form of direct contact between the municipality and the person, and 4) reliance by the person on the municipality’s affirmative duty to protect him or her.

Establishing municipal liability for inadequate security can be a tough hurdle to overcome on the path toward recovery. If you suffered an attack or other injury on government property, contact Leandros A. Vrionedes, P.C. to discuss whether the government failed in its duty owed to you.