A case in North Carolina, involving allegations of inadequate security at a restaurant, was recently settled for $6.25 million. The Plaintiff, a 26-year-old married man with a young child, was employed as a warehouse supervisor. On June 4, 2007, at about 3 a.m., he went to a fast-food restaurant that was open 24 hours daily to get something to eat. Since the place was very busy, he decided not to eat there. An unarmed security guard, who was controlling access to the restaurant, gave permission for the Plaintiff to enter the restaurant to use the restroom. After using the restroom, the Plaintiff walked out of the restaurant into the parking lot. He was then robbed and shot in the back. The perpetrators were members of the Bloods gang.
The bullet severed the Plaintiff’s spinal cord, leaving him permanently paralyzed below the waist. Suit was filed on June 2, 2010, alleging negligence against the franchisor, the franchisee, the president of the franchise, the property owner, and the security company that provided two unarmed security guards. In addition, a claim of successor liability was brought against the franchisor. At the beginning of trial the court bifurcated the liability and damages issues and severed the successor liability claim against the franchisor. A mediation settlement conference had been held prior to the trial. A settlement offer was made in the amount of $100,000.00, which the Plaintiff rejected.
A security expert testified at trial that there had been armed robberies, assaults, and shots fired on the premises during the three-year period leading up to the date the Plaintiff was robbed and shot, and that violent crime was foreseeable. Evidence was also presented that prior to the shooting the police department had requested the franchisee to hire off-duty police officers to provide security. The franchisee had agreed to hire the officers, but they had not started working on the night when the Plaintiff was shot.
The police had also requested the franchisee to close the restaurant briefly during the bar rush, but the franchisee responded that it did not have the authority to close because of its franchise agreement. The Defendants argued that the perpetrators were not deterrable and that the crimes against Plaintiff could not have been prevented by the security measures requested by the police and testified to by Plaintiff’s security expert. At the close of the evidence, the court granted a motion for directed verdict made by the president of the franchise in his individual capacity and denied the motions of the other Defendants. During the third week of trial, while the jury was deliberating, the franchisee and the security company agreed to settle the Plaintiff’s claims.
Charles Bentley, a lawyer from Durham, N.C., and Joe McLeod, who came out of retirement to help try the case, represented the Plaintiff. They did a very good job for him and his life will be much better as a result.
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