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Management company at Roxbury development not legally liable for woman's shooting on road through it, court rules

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today dismissed a suit by the daughter of a woman paralyzed when shot on a road through the Orchard Gardens development in 2013, saying that because the road is a public way, the management company for the complex was not legally liable for her death, even if it had been hired on a promise to make the place safer.

Detra Holloway was taking a shortcut home via Wheatley Way late on June 13, 2013 when she spotted a friend and pulled her scooter over to chat. According to the court's summary of the case:

While she was there, a vehicle drove slowly past the decedent and her friend, and then stopped and backed up towards them. Suddenly, an individual sitting in the backseat "threw the window down and started spraying" gunshots in their direction. A bullet hit the decedent in the right shoulder and severed her spine, causing her to fall from her scooter onto the street.

The shooter was never found.

In 2016, Holloway sued Trinity Management, to which the BHA had leased the crime-ridden Orchard Park project in 1996 after Trinity promised to rebuild it and make it safer - it even hired a private security company to patrol the grounds. As part of the overhaul, the city built several new public streets, including Wheatley Way.

Holloway, whose suit was continued by her daughter after she died in 2018 from complications from the injuries she suffered, argued that Trinity owed "a duty of reasonable care" to her and other people traversing the renamed Orchard Gardens and that that included keeping her from getting shot.

But the appeals court ruled that while Wheatley Way crossed through Orchard Gardens, it was a Boston street, not one controlled by Trinity. The court noted that while the security guards hired by Trinity had arrest powers, that only extended as far as the actual BHA buildings and grounds - and not to any surrounding or even intersecting public roads. It added that the "reasonable care" standard has long been held to apply only to parties that have some sort of relationship, for example, a landlord and tenant, and that that was not the case here.

[A]t no point during the shooting incident was the decedent on property leased or managed by Trinity. Instead, the decedent was at all relevant times a member of the public using a public way owned by the city of Boston. It is well established that "a landowner or possessor typically is not held to any duty with respect to public highways adjacent to or crossing his land." Davis v. Westwood Group, 420 Mass. 739, 743 (1995), citing Pritchard v. Mabrey, 358 Mass. 137, 140 (1970).

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