The family of a brother and sister slain in a gated Broward County apartment complex will be able to collect a $1.8 million jury award because the landlord let a broken security gate go unfixed for months, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The case involves the 2005 killings of 20-year-old Ciara Sanders and her 17-year-old brother Chauncey Sanders. They were fatally shot in the apartment where they had lived for about a year. Ciara Sanders' baby was left untouched and found in the apartment with the victims.
The victims' families argued that the owner of the Gatehouse on the Green apartments in Plantation failed to live up to its obligation to secure the complex by not fixing the gate. Lawyers for the owner argued that there was no sign of forced entry into the apartment and that the victims probably knew their killers, as police speculated at the time in the still unsolved case.
Still, a Sun Sentinel article at the time reported that Gatehouse on the Green began repairs to the security gate the day after learning about the slayings.
A jury awarded $4.5 million in damages and found the complex owner, ERP Operating, 40 percent negligent, meaning relatives would receive $1.8 million from the company. An appeals court struck down the award, but the Supreme Court agreed with the original verdict.
The decision was not only a victory for the family, but should serve as notice to property owners that they can't just ignore security issues, said Jeffrey Allen, a lawyer representing the family.
"That gate was chronically broken and they had so many criminal incidents at the facility," Allen said. "Most of these apartment complexes have to beef up their security, because when they know there's crime and they're fully aware of it, they can't just put their head into the sand and pretend it doesn't exist."
The Supreme Court said in its 5-2 opinion that the Sanders' relatives showed enough evidence that the landlord was more likely than not to have significantly contributed to the deaths. A jury sided with the family in 2009, but an appeals court later threw out the award.
A lawyer for ERP Operating didn't return a phone message seeking left at his office seeking.