This was originally published on the SGR Blog.
Many luxury and other residential buildings in New York City feature doormen or other concierge services. Does the presence of such personnel create a duty to screen guests—and concomitant liability for the alleged failure to properly do so? A recent case addressed that question.
Zoe Denison sought damages for injuries sustained at the hands of Roxanne Woychowski, and the alleged negligence of the 300 East 57 Street, LLC, and Rudin Management Co. Inc. and others, that arose from a night on the town.
The court granted summary judgment and dismissed Denison’s claims against 300 East and Rudin. Denison asked the Court to reconsider the order.
Denison alleged she was drugged at the Mercury Bar East and became separated from her friend with whom she had spent most of the afternoon and evening going to several bars. Once separated, Denison walked from the bar to her apartment at 300 East 57th Street, which is owned and managed by Rudin. Along the way, Denison encountered Roxanne Woychowski. Together, they entered the building and were met by a doorman, Nehat Cira. After obtaining entry, Denison and Woychowski did not go to Denison’s apartment; instead, they went to an unoccupied apartment on a different floor. According to Denison, Woychowski attacked and injured her.
The Court stated that the interaction between Denison, Woychowski, and Cira was the critical issue. The Court summarized the finding of fact in the original order:
At approximately 12:12 a.m. on April 5, 2015, according to surveillance footage, Denison arrived home and, was followed inside by Woychowski. It was unknown how, when, or where Denison and Woychowski came upon one another. The building’s doorman, Nehat Cira, was seen standing at a desk in the lobby holding what appeared to be a log book. Cira hurriedly put the book away as soon as he noticed Denison enter the building.
Cira testified at his deposition that he spoke to Denison when she entered the lobby, asked her how she was and if she and Woychowski were together— and Denison responded in the affirmative. The lobby surveillance footage confirmed Cira saying something to Denison when she entered the building. And Denison was seen raising her arm after she passed Cira on the way to the elevator. Woychowski, following behind Denison, also raised her arm. Woychowski and Cira appeared to briefly exchange words, after which Cira moved to the front door vestibule and Woychowski continued on to the elevator. At this point, Denison had her back to Cira and was seen pushing the elevator button. Woychowski then reached the elevators, puts her arms around Denison and they hugged. Cira testified that it appeared to him that Denison had consumed alcohol that evening, but she did not sound drunk or walk in a drunken manner. Cira smelled alcohol on Denison and Woychowski. But he did not believe that Denison was in any danger or that she was in trouble.
The Court’s original Order found that Cira interacted with Denison who then waved him off as indicated in the security video footage. The Rudin building security procedure required a doorman to ask if an unknown person entering with a tenant was a guest. Cira apparently spoke to Denison who then gestured to Cira. The order also noted that, even if Cira did not interact with Denison, the behavior Cira plainly observed, namely Denison and Woychowski hugging by the elevator, would not have allowed him to know or have a reason to know that there was a likelihood of conduct on the part of Woychowski that was likely to endanger the safety of Denison. Thus, the Court found that, as matter of law, Rudin fulfilled the obligation to Denison in providing a minimal amount of security to protect her from a foreseeable harm. The conclusion in the order was that, since Woychowski was perceived as Denison’s guest, Cira’s conduct was not a proximate cause of her injuries.
Denison made two arguments contending that the court incorrectly made findings of fact and did not evaluate expert testimony regarding doorman security. As for the first argument, Denison advanced the same arguments that were made in the prior motion. The court noted the inconsistencies between Cira’s testimony and the undisputed video footage, but still found that, based on the video footage, there was no basis for Cira to know or have reason to know that Woychowski posed a threat to Denison.
As for the second argument, the expert testimony did nothing to alter the undisputed evidence in the video that showed nothing that would alert Cira to view Woychowski as a foreseeable danger to Denison—who indicated that Woychowski was her guest. And even if that were not the indication or Denison’s wave to Cira were disregarded, her act of hugging Woychowski dispelled any notion that Woychowski was engaged in any dangerous conduct. The expert testimony did not change that view.
Cira testified that he did in fact speak to Denison. After that, both Denison and Woychowski waved him off and continued to the elevator hugging each other, an act that could not be characterized as dangerous or violent. And the doorman’s testimony was corroborated by the video footage.
The Court found that, while Denison’s experience was “horrible”, Rudin was not liable for her injuries. The evidence showed no basis for Cira to have known or to have reason to know that Woychowski was a danger to Denison. As such, the motion for reargument was denied.