Kenneth England v. Maria Brianas

If a Defendent has No Legal Duty to a Plaintiff, a Negligence Action Will Fail
No. 2013-206
Wednesday, June 18, 2014

In England v. Brianis, the female defendant had a relationship with a male in 2009 which ended when he left the state. The male attempted to restart the relationship in early 2010, but was refused. He became angry with her, and eventually began to follow her, and engaging in increasingly profane verbal encounters. After this relationship ended in 2009, she formed a relationship with a different man, and in mid-February of 2010 invited this man to spend the night at her home. Both were unaware that the first male had broken into her home that evening, and was lying in wait. When the second man entered the kitchen, he was stabbed and seriously injured. The injured man sued the female for negligence, alleging that she had breached her civil duty to warn or protect him against the criminal assault that occurred.

The trial court dismissed the action, ruling that no person has a duty to protect others from the unanticipated criminal acts of third persons. On appeal, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that rule, providing that an exception does exist when there are “special circumstances” present. Such circumstances exist when the past behavior of the third person creates a foreseeable risk of injury to others, or the defendant has a special relationship to the injured person that increases the duty owed. Here, there were insufficient facts to suggest that this former boyfriend had a propensity for such violence, and thus no duty was created. In past cases, the duty based upon a special relationship was imposed upon an employer to keep employees safe in a workplace, and upon school administrators to keep the school property safe while children were present.