Sunday, January 15, 2012

Student Shot In Bar Leads to Finding of Negligence

Negligent night club and bar security in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania establishments has been the focus of my verdict research as of late.  Another interesting negligent security case was the matter of  Fatherly v. Hall, et al.

In this case, the 22-year-old plaintiff was shot in the defendant's bar/private club located near the Temple University Campus in Philadelphia. The plaintiff claimed that the shooting resulted from the defendant's negligent security and failure to control the crowd at the establishment. The defendant maintained that the plaintiff was crashing a private party at the time of the shooting and was a trespasser. The defense also argued that it acted reasonably and that the shooters barged into the establishment and the crime was not preventable.

The plaintiff was a student at Temple University who testified that he paid a five dollar admission fee to enter the defendant's bar at approximately 11:30 p.m. in February, 2004, along with his brother and cousin. The plaintiff's brother, who was 20 at the time, (underage for service of alcohol) testified that he did not have an age card and was charged a $ 20 admission fee by the defendant.

Testimony established that the defendant's owners had instituted a security program because they were aware of prior shootings and robberies at bars in other parts of the city. The security measures involved patting down the males for weapons and using metal-detecting wands on the females.

On the night in question, several men entered the establishment at 1:45 a.m. and shots were fired. A bullet struck the plaintiff in the back and lodged in his chest. The shooters were never apprehended and the reason for the shooting was not determined.

The plaintiff alleged that the building was overcrowded as evidenced by the fact that the Philadelphia Fire Marshall had been there before the shooting and had informed the defendant that there were too many people in the building. Evidence showed that the owners of the business had called the police because the crowd was becoming uncontrollable and people were entering without permission. The plaintiff contended that the police advised the defendant to close the establishment. However, the plaintiff argued that after the police left, the defendant kept the place open for another 45 minutes during which time the shooting occurred.

The plaintiff was hospitalized for five days as a result of the shooting. The bullet could not be removed and remains lodged in his chest. The plaintiff claimed that the injury forced him to drop out of college. At the time of trial he had returned to school and was employed performing various odd jobs. The plaintiff made no claim for loss of future earnings.

The defendant contended that several of its employees had security functions and that its security measures were adequate. The defense claimed that it searched all persons entering the premises either by pat down or by using an electronic metal detector wand, or both. It was asserted by the defense that the plaintiff entered the establishment for the purpose of going to a private party on the first floor, which was invitation only. The defense argued that the plaintiff did not know who sponsored the party nor did he have a written invitation as the establishment required and that his trial and deposition testimony as to when he entered the premises was inconsistent.

According to the defense, the first floor room in which the event was being held was closed at approximately 11:30 p.m. and no others were allowed to enter pursuant to the fire marshal's order. The defendant claimed that the plaintiff was in the crowd outside because he was not allowed to enter and was part of a group of young men who forced their way into the entrance after the fire marshal left and after the front door was opened to let patrons leave. The defendant's employee testified that the plaintiff's brother was not charged $ 20 because he had no identification, as he claimed.

The defendant owner testified that he immediately called the police to report the forced entry. Two officers responded to the call. The defendant owner testified that he spoke to the officers and asked for further direction, since their presence indicated that they were taking control of the scene. However, the defendant contended that the officers walked out without searching anyone. When the officers failed to clear the first floor room, the defendant contended that he immediately ordered the disc jockey to stop playing the music, the bar was closed and the disc jockey announced that the party was being closed.

The defendant claimed that the plaintiff remained on the premises after the announcement was made that the party was being closed down and, again, was a trespasser. Shortly thereafter, the shooting occurred. The defendant also presented statistical evidence from the police department that no shootings or violent acts occurred at or near the defendant's establishment at any time prior to the incident.
The jury determined that the plaintiff was not a trespasser on the premises. The jury also found the defendant negligent and awarded the plaintiff $ 400,000 in damages. Post-trial motions are pending.

Personal injury cases involving bar shootings, such as this, are often difficult to win from a plaintiff's perspective. However, in this instance there were several dimensions which tended to support the plaintiff's allegations and gave the plaintiff a better likelihood of success before a jury.

The plaintiff's presentation centered on what the plaintiff claimed was a well-defined time line showing that the fire marshal arrived and warned the defendant that the building was overcrowded, the crowd continued to grow, the defendant called the police, the police arrived and reportedly advised the defendant to close the premises and the plaintiff was shot 45 minutes later. The plaintiff even pled punitive damages, but the court would not allow the punitive damage issue to go to the jury.

In closing, plaintiff's counsel commented to the jury that it was incredible that one of the defendant's owners, who had been in business for more than 30 years, had to ask the police what he should do when the crowd became unmanageable. Plaintiff's counsel argued that the defendant then failed to follow the police officer's advice to close the establishment, which would have prevented the subsequent shooting.

The defense maintained that there was an unclear timeline based on the evidence presented and the plaintiff's conflicting testimony as to what time he actually entered the establishment. The defendant argued that evidence showed that no police officers ordered the defendant to close the bar and that the defendant acted reasonably in closing the premises and locking the doors, immediately calling the police when the forced entry occurred, requesting direction from the police officers, closing the party and ordering the disc jockey to stop the music and attempting to clear the room when the officers failed to take action.

Although the plaintiff dropped out of college following the shooting, it was clear that he was able to return to school and work. Thus, the plaintiff made no claim for loss of future wages and the award is considered generous in light of the actual physical injuries received. The defendant made no settlement offers prior to trial.

The jury came back and awarded the student $400,000. Share this post :
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on StumbleUpon
Share on Delicious
Share on Reddit
Share on Digg
Share on simpy
Share on Technorati
furl Share on furl
Feeds RSS Subscribe to Feeds RSS

No comments:

Post a Comment