Michael William Hawkins was a tenant at the Kentfield Apartments, which is owned by Mark Wilton. On May 5, 2003, manager and night security guard David Anthony Rodriguez shot Hawkins on the sidewalk outside the apartment complex.

Rodriguez was convicted for attempted murder and related charges.

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Hawkins later sued Wilton for negligent hiring of Rodriguez because Wilton knew Rodriguez had been convicted of manslaughter, served a prison term, carried guns, used methamphetamines, and threatened tenants while working for him.

Hawkins sued Wilton for “respondeat superior” employer liability for negligence in not protecting the tenants from foreseeable criminality and allowing a dangerous person to remain on the property.

Landlord Wilton replied the shooting took place on the public sidewalk outside the complex. He also alleged Rodriguez and Hawkins were “pretty good acquaintances” who spoke and smoked cigarettes almost daily. Hawkins responded that he warned Wilton’s managers “a week or two before” that Rodriguez acted weird, carried guns, and was going to kill somebody.

But Hawkins continued to socialize with Rodriguez and even let him into his apartment. At the trial, Wilton testified this evidence showed Hawkins did not consider Rodriguez to be a threat.

If you were the judge would you rule landlord Wilton can be held liable to Hawkins for negligently hiring ex-con Rodriguez?

The judge said yes!

“An employer who allowed such conduct by a manager or security guard would not be insulated from ‘respondeat superior’ liability simply because the tenant chose to socialize with the employee, or simply because the shooting took place on the sidewalk outside the apartment complex,” the judge began.

“In our view, an employer cannot allow a drug-addled convicted felon to carry and brandish loaded firearms during the course and scope of employment, particularly where, as here, the employment necessarily consists of making contact with members of the public, such as tenants and visitors to the complex,” the judge continued.

“Such conduct merits liability because it should be discouraged, the victim should be compensated and the victim’s losses should be borne by the enterprise causing the risk; moreover, liability will not impose an undue burden but will merely ensure that apartment owners who choose to employ security guards or managers will select, train and supervise them to avoid inflicting additional risks on their tenants,” the judge ruled.

Based on the 2006 California Court of Appeal decision in Hawkins v. Wilton, 51 Cal.Rptr.3d 1.

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center
).

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