Were landlords negligent in death of reality TV star?

Estate of Chris Pearson files lawsuit against Woodland Hills apartment owners

Chris Pearson with 22111 Erwin Street (MTV, Google Maps)
Chris Pearson with 22111 Erwin Street (MTV, Google Maps)

Chris Pearson, who starred on the 2018 season of MTV’s “Ex on the Beach” reality television show, was killed last year in a fight that took place in a common area of his apartment building. Now his mother and his estate are suing his former landlords and their security companies for negligence related to Pearson’s death at age 25.

A complaint filed Aug. 8 in Superior Court of Los Angeles alleges that the building owners did not provide decent security measures such as maintaining functioning gate locks at the entrances and exits of Pearson’s former residence at 22111 Erwin Street, in Los Angeles’ Woodland Hills neighborhood. The complaint’s defendants are AvalonBay Communities, a large publicly traded REIT, along with ASN Woodland Hills East LLC and security companies Universal Protection Service and Allied Universal Executive Protection and Intelligence Services.

The complaint alleges that the apartment building’s neighborhood is a high crime area, and the landlords also concealed the truth about the neighborhood’s safety conditions in order to safeguard their business and avoid a loss of profits.

Pearson was in a common area of his apartment building on Oct. 9, 2021, when he was attacked and stabbed by an unknown assailant and died at 3:30 a.m. the next day. The lawsuit requests a jury trial and unspecified damages to help pay funeral expenses, medical expenses, general damages for pain and suffering and punitive damages for infliction of emotional distress.

The plaintiff’s attorney April Ramirez of B|B Law Group and a representative for AvalonBay did not return requests for comment.

There have been similar cases which attempted to prove landlords liable for damages for violent crimes against tenants. Attorneys polled for this story said that plaintiffs bear the burden of proof. They must prove that a number of similar violent crimes took place at the apartment complex, and that there was a high degree of “foreseeability” that crime would be committed against a tenant at an apartment site in the future.

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In a prominent 2009 case, Yu Fang Tan v. Arnel Management Company, a man named Yu Fang Tan was shot and made a parapalegic during a carjacking in an ungated area of his apartment complex in Rowland Heights.

Tan’s lawyers said that there had been three earlier violent crimes in the compound, and that the landlords and apartment managers did not take reasonable steps to protect their tenants, such as building barriers, even a flimsy swing gate, that would frustrate criminals.

But the court ruled against Tan. The lawyers did not prove there was enough of a degree of “foreseeability” that a carjacking would take place on their property.

Detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department are still investigating the Pearson case, said Officer Norma Eisenman, an LAPD representative. A suspect for Pearson’s murder was arrested in December 2021. However, the district attorney’s office rejected filing charges because there was a potential self-defense issue. The district attorney’s office requested additional information on the case.

According to the Property Shark listing site, the apartment building at 22111 Erwin Street was built in 1971 and is comprised of 411 units.

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