According to news reports on January 18, 2008, a Los Angeles jury awarded a $12 million verdict against an apartment owner that hired a maintenance man without a background check who then raped and murdered a 30-year-old tenant. The maintenance man was a convicted felon and registered sex offender who was given keys and access to all apartments in the complex.

The wrongful death case, brought by the victim’s family, alleged that the maintenance man was the perpetrator, and that a background check would have revealed his criminal past.

The verdict underscores again the value of background checks in protecting human life. For a minimal cost, the apartment owners could have easily discovered the criminal record before handing a registered sex offender the keys that allowed access to evey apartment and putting numerous people at risk. By failing to exercise due diligence in hiring, employers open themselves up to this type of negligent hiring lawsuit.

In addition, even businesses that only hire occasionally have easy access to background checks. ESR for example has a small business division, where a small employer can go online and use their credit card for a background check in a very user-friendly system. See:

In this type of case, the duty to conduct a background check was especially critical because of the potential and foreseeable risk to human life if the keys to every apartment were given to the wrong person. See the next article of this newsletter for a discussion of risk and the increased need to conduct due diligence in hiring.