For plaintiffs' lawyers, premises liability actions can be tricky when it comes to trying to prove liability. The ordinary slip and fall cases hinge on whether or not a plaintiff is able to prove that the property owner/business owner had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition. Trying to prove that an owner knew or should have known about a puddle of water on the floor can be....well, slippery. That problem becomes somewhat simplified when what you are trying to prove knowledge of crimes or criminal activity. In recent cases involving claims of inadequate security, plaintiffs' attorneys have been able to prove this point, as well as damages, in a big way.
In 2011, a $4,255,280 jury verdict was rendered in favor of plaintiff Yahtavian Bellamy, who was a business invitee on Oct. 8, 2006, at Boomers!, a children's entertainment and fun park in Dania Beach, FL. Plaintiff was shot at around 12:50 a.m. as he was trying to leave an argument between teenagers. Plaintiff claimed that defendant should have provided better security as it knew or should have known that its park and parking lot were in a high crime area and that many attacks had taken place. The jury found defendant 90% negligent, despite its argument that the attack actually occurred on a side street and not on its premises. 2011 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 205666.
Likewise, the estate of a Florida pharmacist shot and killed by a drug user was awarded $5,876,809. Shannon McCants worked as a pharmacist at Shands Jacksonville Medical Center, while defendant Wackenhut Corporation provided the security and protective services for Shands. Plaintiff claimed that Wackenhut knew of prior incidents and should have taken measures to prevent the fatal attack on his decedent. Defendant denied negligence and claimed that Shands was negligent. The jury found defendant 25% negligent and Shands 75% negligent. See 2012 FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. LEXIS 41 (FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. 2012).In another recent case, an apartment resident who was attacked by a fleeing felon was awarded $1,826,000 against the property owner by a Florida jury. Plaintiff sustained multiple fractures when she jumped from a window to escape. Plaintiff claimed that the managers/owners of the apartment building, defendants Bay Winds Associates and Cornerstone Residential Management, provided inadequate security. Defendants claimed that the security was adequate, that the area was not high-crime, and that plaintiff was negligent in opening her door thinking it was an air-conditioning repairman. The jury found defendants 80% negligent and plaintiff 20% negligent. The verdict amount was prior to reduction for plaintiff's negligence. See 2012 FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. LEXIS 222 (FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. 2012).
A bar patron shot outside the bar after the shooter was ejected obtained a $2,000,000 settlement from a shopping center and nightclub. The club had off-duty Palm Beach Sheriff's officers providing security outside the club, and its insurance policy contained an assault and battery exclusion. Nonetheless, the shopping center and the nightclub each tendered their insurance policy limits to settle the claim. 2012 FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. LEXIS 102 (FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. 2012).
However, some recent cases reflect the problems that can arise when injuries result from the intentional acts of a third party. For example, a Walt Disney World invitee who was assaulted by another in line for the teacup ride faced a defense verdict after the jury found that although defendant Walt Disney World was negligent in failing to provide reasonable security measures, defendant's negligence was not the legal cause of plaintiff's injury. Defendant's renewed motion for directed verdict was granted on Dec. 16, 2011. 2012 FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. LEXIS 227 (FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. 2012).
Likewise, although a $3,600,000 plaintiff's verdict was obtained against the party who committed the criminal act, the court granted summary judgment to the business owner, T.G.I. Friday's, in an action involving four invitees who were shot by a fellow patron. 2012 AL Civil Trial Rptr. LEXIS 140 (AL Civil Trial Rptr. 2012). Plaintiffs had claimed that defendant T.G.I Friday's had actual or constructive knowledge that the shooter would become violent but failed to take appropriate action to keep plaintiffs and their decedents safe from harm. Plaintiffs had also claimed, without success, that employees of T.G.I. Friday's continued to serve alcohol to Woods despite his already intoxicated state.
In a case involving another defense judgment, 43-year-old plaintiff Carrie Lloyd was awaiting a hearing inside of a courtroom at the Hillsborough County Courthouse when a fight broke out in the courtroom. Plaintiff claimed that defendants Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office were liable for her resulting injuries based on their failure to provide adequate security. On Jan. 25, 2012, Judge James Arnold granted defendant's motion for summary judgment. 2012 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 3442. See also 2008 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 24886 (defense verdict in Pennsylvania action alleging negligent security at lacrosse game caused plaintiff to be kicked in the head by rowdy patrons).
For more plaintiffs' verdicts and settlements in inadequate security cases see 2012 FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. LEXIS 146 (FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. 2012) ($1.7 million verdict awarded after fatal stabbing at nightclub); 2011 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 202607 (jury returns $ 1,050,147.10 verdict in favor of nightclub patron injured in fight); 2011 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 1755 (Connecticut judge refuses to set aside jury verdict in action alleging nightclub provided inadequate security); 2011 FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. LEXIS 324 (FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. 2011) ($1.6 million dollar verdict to plaintiff who was raped at mobile home park); 2012 FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. LEXIS 250 (FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. 2012) ($68,318.14 verdict to patron assaulted at bar); 2009 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 230648 (Oklahoma federal jury awards $500,000 to bystander stabbed at store during attempt to assist security guard in struggle with suspected shoplifter); 2008 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 26988; 1 Exp. Wit. 22785 ($8,010,000 to Estate of man shot & killed in parking lot while walking to his vehicle); 2008 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 48213 (parties settle Alabama district court action involving customer who was attacked in store parking lot); 2009 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 290771; 1 Exp. Wit. 4461 ($1,100,000 settlement in Massachusetts action where guest was raped in women's restroom at luxury resort).
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