A Virginia judge has dismissed a $3 million negligence suit brought by an Arlington rape victim against her landlords, ruling that the state's landlords have no legal duty to protect their tenants from crime by third parties.
Arlington Circuit Court Judge Paul Brown agreed earlier this week to strike all evidence in the case, a move that halted the proceedings just as the woman's attorney had finished making his final presentation to the jury.
The defendants -- the landlord, the property management firm and the security agency hired to patrol the apartment complex -- had denied any negligence or responsibility in the attack, which occurred June 4, 1979, in the parking lot of South Four Towers.
Although Judge Brown held that Virginia law protects a landlord from any liability in such cases, the woman's attorney, Charles S. Cox Jr., argued that the state's Landlord-Tenant Act of 1974 created a "special relationship" between landlord and tenant. This special relationship, he said, made it the duty of the landlord to take adequate measures to protect tenants.
Cox said he plans to appeal the case to the Virginia Supreme Court.
In her suit, the woman, a 24-year-old office worker, complained that poor lighting in the parking lot and lax security around the complex contributed to the rape. The convicted rapist also testified that he regarded the site as "an easy place" to rob and rape and had committed other crimes there previously.
In addition, the woman's claim that a security guard had seen, but turned away from, her and her abductor just before the rape occurred raised questions about the adequacy of training for the Washington area's private security force workers. The guard denied her allegation.
"There were special circumstances in this case to warrant that the landlord did have a duty to protect tenants from the criminal act of third parties," said Cox. "The landlord was assuming that duty by providing the security guard and the lighting."
Attorneys for the South Four Towers complex, located on South Four Mile Run, and the security firm could not be reached for comment on dismissal of the case.