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In a building with gated entry, if a resident lets a stranger into the building, and he turns out to be a thief, would the resident who let him in be liable for the damages?

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    Potentially - yes / no / maybe. But without knowing the detail it's impossible to say one way or another. What are the restrictions on allowing people in? Do you have the authority to allow entry for an unknown person? Does the thief have permission to enter anyway? (How) Do you know they're a thief..?
    – user35069
    Apr 11, 2023 at 10:24
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    @Rick Thanks. Edited for clarity.
    – MWB
    Apr 11, 2023 at 11:08
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    It will still likely depend on the circumstances under which the person was let in, as well as on the policies or house rules of the building. Furthermore, the answer is probably different in different states.
    – phoog
    Apr 11, 2023 at 11:33
  • The question depends on SO MANY factors not in there, that it is unanswerable.
    – Trish
    Apr 11, 2023 at 12:54

1 Answer 1

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The primary legal question is whether the resident (tenant) has breached a duty of care. There are all sorts of laws establishing duties of care, such as between doctor and patient, which may be created by a legislature or may be part of common law tradition. There is a duty of care imposed on a landlord w.r.t. the tenant, requiring that the premise be "secure", therefore a landlord might easily be held liable if the main door into the building was not locked. This duty is a specific instance of a general duty from tradesman/businessman to customer.

As far as I can determine, there is no such statutory duty imposed on tenants in Washington state, and none from case law being revealed by a few cursory searches. In order to be subsumed under general "everybody has a duty to everybody else" law, the damage would have to be foreseeable. It is said that "If something is foreseeable, it is a probable and predictable consequence of the defendant’s negligent actions or inaction". This mean that a reasonable person would have known that, under the circumstances, the damage is likely to result. Circumstances vary quite a bit, and there is no general rule about holding the door open for another person. If there is abundant signage reminding tenants to never ever let in a stranger no matter that their excuse and/or if the premise is in a crime war-zone, the outcome is more likely to be considered to be foreseeable.

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  • Closely related is whether in a particular instance a resident breached that duty of care. If the duty of care is merely the general obligation to take reasonable care to avoid harm to others, what constitutes a breach of that duty could be almost entirely up to a jury that could decide either way on a rich factual record.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 11, 2023 at 18:05

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