As a business owner, can you be criminally liable if you do not take the necessary actions to prevent criminal activity on your premises? This is a good question for any business owner, especially if they are currently facing charges for a similar offense. To better answer this question, take a look at a similar 2012 case, and the court proceedings that resulted. Then be sure to consult a trusted and experienced Indianapolis criminal defense lawyer for professional advice and guidance.
Santelli v. RAHMATULLAH, 966 N.E.2d 661
Cite Numbers: 966 N.E.2d 661
Docket Number: 49A04-1011-CT-704
The case of Santelli v. Rahmatulla, 966 N.E.2d 611 was a tragic injustice to the victim’s family. In 2005, James Santelli was staying at a motel owned by Abu Rahmatullah while working on a construction project in town. Just before Santelli’s stay, Abu Rahmatullah hired a general maintenance worker named Joseph Pryor. Joseph Pryor was a convicted felon and had a warrant out for this arrest for a probation violation, but was given the job by Rahmatullah anyway.
Shortly after he quit, but held on to a master hotel key that gave him access to every room on the premises. On the night of October 16 or 17, 2005, Pryor entered Santelli’s room and proceeded to rob him, resulting in Santelli’s murder. Pryor was eventually convicted of an 85 year sentence, and is still serving that time to this day.
Rahmatullah was not charged criminally for the case even though he made some negligence business decisions. Indiana law recognizes a duty of a hotel owner to safeguard their patrons, so Rahmatullah was still held liable outside of criminal law. Not only was the motel located in a high crime area, Rahmatullah failed to keep exterior doors consistently closed, failed to keep the locks in working order, and never monitored the pool and lobby security cameras.
Furthermore, he failed to perform background checks on his staff and hired individuals with violent criminal histories. As a result, jury returned a verdict finding the total damages in the amount of $2,070,000.00, and apportioned 2% of the fault for Santelli’s death to Rahmatullah. So for his negligence and the contribution he inadvertently had in Santelli’s death, he was order to pay $41,400.00, which is 2% of the total damages found by the jury.
It was a hefty remuneration, so naturally, he appealed in 2010. The appellate court ordered the jury to be instructed on the very duty doctrine, a common law doctrine that holds a premises owner owes a level of reasonable care to protect patrons against a foreseeable crime. The Supreme Court of Indiana vacated the decision and granted transfer. The court heard oral arguments from both sides and was presented with conflicting views on the supremacy the “Comparative Fault Act”, or the “very duty doctrine. The Comparative Fault Act dictates that where a plaintiff is found more than 50% at fault, the plaintiff cannot recover.
The case sparked the interests of both the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana (DTCI) and the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA), which wrote opposing amicus briefs to help guide the court on the issue. The Supreme Court’s decision could have had wide-ranging consequences on business owners. If the appellate decision had remained, then Indiana business owners will potentially face enhanced premises liability for the criminal acts of others.
Is Your Criminal Record Holding You Back?
To limit such liability, business owners now have to conduct criminal background checks on all employees, which means that convicted criminals face dismal opportunities for employment and housing. If you are having trouble getting hired because of your criminal record, you should consider criminal record expungement or record sealing. There are new laws in Indiana that allow those who qualify to conceal their criminal background from the public, including employers.