A Florida court dismissed a lawsuit brought by the family of a man killed while operating an illegal “chop shop” out of an apartment complex. Freddie Smith was fatally shot while dealing in stolen property in violation of Florida Statute §812.019. His family sued the owners and property managers for inadequate security that directly caused his death. The family claimed that the shooting was completely unrelated to the chop shop.

The trial court dismissed the case based upon Florida’s Trespasser Immunity Law §768.075 (4). This law protects apartment complex owners, management companies and their agents from any legal responsibility if a person is injured or killed while committing a felony on their property.

The family argued that the law should not apply since Mr. Smith’s shooting was unrelated to his chop shop. Both the trial court and appellate court disagreed. The court’s opinion states that there is no ambiguity or confusion to the law, “the statute bars recovery for any person committing a felony on the property whether or not the injury arises out of the commission of a felony.”

I disagree with this opinion. When suing a Florida apartment owner or agent, or manager for an injury or death, they must be held responsible for maintaining their property in a safe and secure manner.

The Court’s opinion simply punishes those for committing a crime completely unrelated to their injury or death. In Mr. Smith’s case, his family was deprived justice simply because he was allegedly selling stolen car parts. In order for this law to be fair, I believe there must be a causal nexus between the felony and the injury. Mr. Smith may have been doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, but the defendants should not be relieved of all legal responsibility.

Furthermore was Mr. Smith actually convicted of the felony of operating an illegal chop shop? It seems to me that a conviction of the felony should be required. Apparently the civil trial court made that determination of his guilt on its own. I hope that Mr. Smith’s family will bring this case to Florida’s Supreme Court and that our Legislature revises this law to require a felony conviction associated with the injury or death.

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