Deaths resulting from unauthorized persons gaining access in gated communities have recently reached the headlines in Florida. Not surprisingly, the incidents resulted in lawsuits against residential communities that marketed themselves as protecting residents through enforced gate and screening procedures. The lawsuits claim the communities were negligent in their security.
In 2014, Judith Matthews hired Gulick Construction to complete renovations and repairs on her home within the Yacht and Country Club of Stuart while she was away. During the construction, 32-year-old Robert Gulick, the son of the company’s owner, occupied the residence. Over the coming weeks, Gulick, who had a 35-page criminal record which included nine arrests for nineteen different crimes, befriended the community’s security guards and neighbors, allowing him to be waved into the complex and take up residence in Matthews’ home.
On November 9, 2014, Gulick instructed the community’s security guards to allow 72-year-old Gloria Bono and her son, 45-year-old Michael Bono, into the community. This was strictly against the association’s rules and regulations as Gulick should not have been allowed to grant access to nonresidents. Gloria and Michael Bono were later found dead by Martin County Sherriff’s Office officials having been shot multiple times. Gulick was later found dead due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound at a local Best Western motel room. The deaths were ruled the result of a murder-suicide by Gulick.
Last month, a double wrongful death lawsuit was filed in a Martin Circuit Court by Gloria Bono’s daughter, Lisa Melisse, and Michael Bono’s father, Michael Bono, Sr. The Yacht and Country Club of Stuart was named as a defendant in the lawsuit for ignoring procedures and letting Gulick into the community. The lawsuit states that the association “negligently failed to provide adequate security” and that they “exposed Gloria Bono and Michael Bono to a foreseeable and unreasonable risk of harm.”
This lawsuit comes on the heels of the 2015 case of Sanders v. ERP Operating L. P., 157 So. 3d 273 (Fla. 2015), in which the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Gatehouse on the Green in Plantation, a gated apartment community, was partially responsible for a double murder that occurred within the community. In that case, a broken gate that the community had failed to repair, allegedly allowed a double murderer into the complex. ERP Operating was held partially liable by a jury for negligently failing to repair and ensure the community gate was operational causing a lapse in security.
These cases serve as an important lesson to all gated communities or communities providing security measures. In both cases, the entities operating the community were accused of failing to protect their residents by negligently allowing deficiencies in security systems and procedures to exist. These two incidents that resulted in four deaths provides a reminder to community associations that they must stay on top of the security measures in their communities. Even when the proper procedures in place, communities need to ensure that the proper protocols are being followed by their security staff.