A woman and her husband were out on a movie date while their young daughter, who had just begun teething, was in daycare. The previews were on. Her husband was texting. A patron seated behind them got agitated. There was a confrontation and the other patron, a retired police captain, marched off to inform theater employees of the disturbance. He returned. There was another confrontation. Her husband grabbed the man’s bucket of popcorn and threw it at him. The other patron then, allegedly, shot and killed her husband.
The retired captain is facing second-degree murder and aggravated battery charges. Now, the widow, who suffered a gunshot wound to her finger, is suing the theater, an employee and a developer, alleging negligence resulting in wrongful death. She also alleges she personally suffered permanent bodily injury, disfigurement, disability and mental anguish. She had used her own hand to try to deflect the bullet that killed her husband.
Named in her Florida lawsuit are the employee who worked customer service at the theater, the theater chain (which operates 20 theaters in five states) and the development company that owns the land on which the theater was built. She seeks more than $15,000 in damages at a jury trial.
This case is an example of how third-party entities may be liable for the intentional criminal acts of another person. The theories on which these claims are based are premises liability, and one of the primary questions will be whether these entities owed a duty of care to patrons of the theater – and to what extent.
Plaintiff alleges there were several breaches of duty to her and her husband as business invitees of the theater. First, she asserts the employee failed to appropriately and timely respond to the complaint made by the retired police captain. This resulted in a potentially dangerous situation escalating when it didn’t need to happen.
Second, she alleges the theater chain lacked any protocol for how it would enforce its own policy of not allowing firearms on the property. Plaintiff also asserts the theater was negligent in training its employee to appropriately respond to potentially volatile complaints.
Finally, she asserts the development company that owned the property had a duty not to allow a dangerous condition to exist thereon. This is particularly true when there is a pattern of known crime in the area. It’s not clear from the complaint exactly what known crime pattern was established at the site that might have foreshadowed this incident, making it foreseeable to the developer. One could speculate prior incidents on the site involving firearms might be relevant.
The retired officer, now 71, has been released on $150,000 bail after initially being denied the request several times. His criminal defense lawyers have indicated he intends to assert a defense of Stand Your Ground. He says he feared for his life and shot the unarmed decedent in self-defense. He faces up to 25 years if convicted.
But the civil lawsuit is a separate proceeding that will go on simultaneously.
If a loved one dies due to someone else’s negligence in Florida, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Florida widow sues theater for wrongful death over shooting, Jan. 26, 2016, Orlando Sentinel
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Baseball Fan Injuries Demand Greater Protection in the Stands, Dec. 22, 2016, Miami Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog