When your conduct puts someone else in danger, you may be held responsible if that person is injured. That’s an easy concept to understand when the facts are simple, such as the person who drives negligently and causes injury to a pedestr
ian or a passenger. Sometimes, it’s up to the court to sort it out.
As alleged in a recent lawsuit, Jean Robert Vertus ran a financial business from his second floor apartment in Irvington, NJ. It was a dangerous area, and he had already been robbed once. Around 5:00 p.m., he noticed a departing customer acting strangely, and suspected something was going on. He ducked out of a side exit, and proceeded to the home of people he knew three buildings down, Mr. Novaly and Mr. St. Louis. He told them “something” was going on in his apartment. He did not ask them to call “911” because he claims he did not know exactly what was going on. He did ask them to call his apartment, which they did, only to find that the line was busy.
Novaly and St. Louis went to investigate; Vertus stayed behind because he was scared. At no time, did he tell his neighbors that he suspected a robbery was taking place.
Novaly’s attempt to be of assistance ended in tragedy, as he was shot and killed by the robbers outside the apartment building. His estate sued Vertus.
Vertus claimed no liability. He said that he did not force Novaly to come to his aid; Novaly assumed whatever risk there was. Not so, said the Appellate Division. Vertus’ action of requesting assistance for what he knew (or at least strongly suspected) was a dangerous condition put Novaly at risk. This was compounded by Vertus’ failure to adequately explain the situation to Novaly. Had Novaly known that there was a robbery taking place, he might not have been so willing to investigate. It is likely he may have called “911” and waited for the police to handle it.
Every citizen has a duty to refrain from exposing others to foreseeable criminal or negligent acts of others. Vertus had a responsibility not to let Novaly expose himself to danger without fully informing him of what he was walking into.