Bill Friedlander and I took a liability verdict in Orange County on Friday, May 20 in a negligent security case. We represented a woman bystander that was shot in the face during a gun battle between gang members at the Howard Johnson’s Hotel in Middletown. The bullet struck her in the eyebrow, causing the loss of that eye with associated facial damages and neuro-psychological effects. We tried the case for two weeks. The jury heard from 15 witnesses and our expert on negligent security. The jury found the hotel chain owner liable for 100% of our client’s injuries, and apportioned 0% against the gang member shooter.
At trial, the record showed that the lack of security at the hotel made it a magnet inviting drugs, prostitution, and associated gang activity. This was a longstanding, known condition at the hotel at issue. The shooter was there for a party. He was not staying at the hotel. He was there only to sell drugs, and in fact had 20-30 packets of heroin on him when the shooting occurred. The triggering event for our client getting shot in the face was a “birthday” party—which in the crime world means really a promoter party—which our expert testified attracts drug dealers wishing to sell more product. Our client was in the parking lot sitting in in her car with her friend and waiting for her friend’s father to pick her up. She was shot in the face five minutes later, still sitting in her car.
The promoter for this birthday party had people wanding at the door of the party to prevent guns from getting into the party. In contrast, the hotel had one 61 year old 5’1” 120 pound woman at the front desk and no other staff on premises.
The police identified and arrested the shooter. He pled guilty to the shooting and at the time of trial was serving a 22 year sentence. The owners of the hotel chain impleaded the shooter as a third party defendant. It didn’t matter. The lack of security by the hotel chain was so blatant and the harm to our client so foreseeable, if not probable, that the jury correctly placed blame where it belonged – on the hotel chain that had allowed this type of crime and violence to exist on its property while at the same time inviting guests to that property.
We start the second phase of the trial in the fall. The first trial determined liability. A new jury will determine the amount of harm and losses that our client suffered as result of the negligence of the hotel chain owners.