CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Supreme Court has affirmed a decision by Laramie County District Court Judge Steven K. Sharpe that a senior living community wasn’t responsible for a fatal shooting that occurred at the complex.
The shooting at Heritage Court Apartments, owned by parent company Accessible Space Inc., occurred Sept. 14, 2016. Shooter Larry Rosenberg, 77, was a disgruntled resident who shot three people, killing employee Matthew Wilson, before shooting himself, according to previous Wyoming Tribune Eagle reporting.
Surviving victims Gregory Gilbert and Larry Warwick filed the original lawsuit in district court May 30, 2017.
Sharpe ruled that the complex had “no duty to protect the plaintiffs from Mr. Rosenberg’s unforeseeable criminal action.”
The Supreme Court examined two issues with the case: whether the complex owed a common law duty to protect the residents from Rosenberg’s criminal action and if the complex failed to comply with its lease requirements, resident handbook and personnel policies – thus causing the residents’ injuries.
In the decision released Tuesday, the Supreme Court found that a “legal duty may arise from a contract, a statute or the common law.” However, the plaintiffs “do not claim any statute imposed a duty upon (the complex) to protect them from Mr. Rosenberg’s action. They assert, instead, such duty arose from the common law and by contract through their leases, the resident handbook and the (complex’s) personnel policies.”
The plaintiffs asserted that the complex was negligent, and to prove negligence, the Supreme Court said the plaintiffs must prove four points: that the complex owed the defendants a standard of care, that the standard-of-care duty was breached, that this breach caused the defendant’s injury and that the injury should be compensated financially.
This puts into question whether the complex had that duty, according to the court opinion. The plaintiffs also had to prove that the complex could foresee Rosenberg potentially committing violent acts.
The Supreme Court also found Rosenberg had a “long history of complaining about other tenants and relatively minor conditions at the facility without becoming violent.” For this reason, the complex had no way to foresee that he would conduct the shooting.
“(Rosenberg’s) prior conduct did not give (the complex) reason to know he posed a danger to them. Consequently, it did not have a common law duty the protect the plaintiffs from Mr. Rosenberg’s criminal action,” the Supreme Court ruled. “However, even if we assume (the complex) failed to sufficiently address Mr. Rosenberg’s minor complaints, its actions were not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.”
According to the Supreme Court opinion:
The complex provides low-income housing for seniors and is an independent living facility. To live at the complex, residents must meet income requirements and pass a background check. Rosenberg met these requirements and had been living in the complex since 2007.
In October and November 2015, Rosenberg filed complaints against Warwick with the complex, stating that Warwick’s truck was leaking oil in the parking lot, he was smoking too close to the building and for having a “dirty mouth.”
Rosenberg also complained that Gilbert was hosting poker games in the facility, and, in his view, it was violating the lease, which prohibited gambling. In July 2016, he filed another complaint about the poker games, and he also had disagreements with Wilson over issues such as the use of the complex’s grill and a shower repair.
On Sept. 14, 2016, Rosenberg shot Gilbert and fatally shot Wilson when they were sitting outside the entrance to the complex. He then went inside the complex to Warwick’s room and shot him with a .22-caliber pistol.
Rosenberg went back outside and saw Gilbert wasn’t dead, so he shot him again. Shortly after the shooting, Rosenberg fatally shot himself.
Warwick and Gilbert sought compensatory and punitive damages for the shooting, and accused the complex of negligence for failing to protect them – which was ultimately denied.