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A Young Mother’s Life Lost – A Foreseeable Tragedy Results in $13,000,000 Jury Verdict

Published December 12, 2017 by Bruce Millar

Knowing that we are safe in our own homes is one of the cornerstones that make life liveable. People around the world, however, trust the security of their homes to landlords and maintenance employees every day. We make certain assumptions when we rent house or apartment. We presume that we will be safe behind a locked door and we believe that the owner or manager of the dwelling will safeguard the access to our families. While these presumptions seem reasonable, they doesn’t always happen.

In the tragic case of TGM Ashley Lakes, Inc. v. Jennings, 264 Ga. App. 456, a young mother was strangled to death by the apartment complex’s maintenance man. She was murdered when she came home for lunch while neither her boyfriend nor her two-year-old son was there. The perpetrator, one Curtis Oliver was apprehended and convicted of the crime.

An Employee With a Seriously Bad Record – All Known

The decedent’s parents learned that the employee who killed their daughter was hired in spite of a long criminal record that made him an unsuitable employee for a job that gave him access to all apartments within the complex. They sued on behalf of the child.

The employee had been recommended for hire by the leasing manager. Unfortunately, the defendant apartment complex did not follow its own policies and procedures in terms of hiring. Had it done the criminal check or even a reference check it would have revealed that the maintenance man, Calvin Oliver, had spent most of his adult life in prison or on parole. He had felony convictions for rape, armed robbery, robbery by force, larceny, credit card theft, and at least three residential burglaries. He was also the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant for a “failure to appear” in a burglary case involving the theft of personal checks

Between the time Oliver was hired in the fall of 1998 and the time of the murder, residents of the apartment complex reported ten or more unforced entries and burglaries of their apartments. The management of the complex admitted knowing about certain unforced entries in late 1998 and early 1999. The evidence demonstrated that in February and early March, residents reported the theft of cash, jewelry, guns, computers, blank personal checks, and other valuables from their apartments.

The Awarded Compensation for Wrongful Death

The jury found in favor of the decedent’s estate in an amount in excess of $13,000,000. The trial judge affirmed the verdict.

The apartment complex appealed the verdict on the grounds that they should have been granted a directed verdict (a verdict from the bench and not handed over to the jury for consideration,) on the matter of negligent hiring. They contended that Oliver’s behavior could not have been predicted – was not foreseeable because his criminal activities had never included murder by strangulation before.

The appellate court, in keeping with opinions from the Supreme Court on similar questions found that Oliver’s previous record, which included forcible rape, was sufficiently violent to render his behavior foreseeable. The Court also found that the complex failed to uphold the inescapable and undelegatable “…duty upon a landowner to keep his premises in a reasonably safe condition and a landowner must use ordinary care to do so.”

Finally, on the matter of wrongful death, the appellate court found that in a wrongful death action damages may be awarded for the full value of the deceased’s life. And, as has been upheld time and time again in Georgia, the amount of that worth can best be determined by “the enlightened conscience of a jury.”

The trial court’s verdict was upheld.

The young decedent here and her child had a right to expect that the apartment complex in which they lived to protect their safety and to ensure their security. When they failed, the judicial system made sure that some of what was lost was returned to this child who will not have his mother to rely upon as his life goes on. Of course, no amount of money can make up for the losses this child will experience. The court did, however, make provision for his upbringing and education.

Injury Lawyers Serving the People of Atlanta

Georgia law is written and handed down with simple principles that are meant to support all of those who come before the bench equally. Perhaps you or someone you know has been injured by somebody else’s negligence. When others’ reckless actions harm others, the law stands on the side of the injured party. The trick is to know how to present and litigate the case.

In order to make the wheels of justice turn properly, you need the help of a trained and experienced litigator. If you think you may have a civil suit, call the legal team at The Millar Law Firm for a free review of the facts of your case. Personal injury is our specialty and we stand ready to help you if we can. Call today.

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