Graham Cent. Station, Inc. v. Pena – Negligent Nightclub Security
Gregg Hollander | July 3, 2014 | Personal Injury
West Palm Beach premises liability attorneys know that claims of negligent security require plaintiffs to show that third-party criminal acts that occurred on property were foreseeable by the property owner/operator and therefore preventable.
But that’s not the only element. It’s also important to make sure the right party is being sued. This is not always as straightforward as it sounds, particularly in dealing with the nightclub scene. You may be dealing with several property owners, promoters, private security firms and public security agencies. In some cases, each one of these entities may have a hand in the negligence. It’s important that the plaintiff’s legal team conducts a thorough investigation to determine which parties had a legal duty to the plaintiff.
While a person generally has no legal duty to protect another from third-party criminal acts, property owners do have a responsibility to use ordinary care to protect invitees from criminal acts if the risk of such acts is foreseeable.
In Graham Cent. Station, Inc. v. Pena, weighed recently by the Texas Supreme Court, the issue of insufficient legal evidence supporting ownership of the nightclub – and therefore a legal duty to the plaintiff – resulted in a reversal of an earlier judgment in favor of the victim.
According to court documents, the case involved an altercation that took place outside the club. The victim was assaulted by other patrons who were also attending the club.
The victim in turn filed a civil lawsuit, alleging the defendant owned the nightclub and failed to hire enough security to adequately protect him from those who initiated the attack.
The defendant responded it was not a proper party to the lawsuit. It denied ownership of the club, stated it did not control the premises in question and in fact had no connection with the nightclub. The corporation sued was Graham Central Station, Inc. (GCS). The company said the company that owned and operated the nightclub was a separate LLC under a different name, though it did business as “Graham Central Station.” The response included names and phone numbers of those individuals.
Despite this revelation, the plaintiff never amended the petition to add the other company. The case against GCS proceeded to a bench trial. During the proceedings, both sides presented evidence regarding the ownership of the club and the patron’s injuries.
The trial court found in favor of the plaintiff, awarding him $450,000 plus court costs.
The defendant appealed, holding the plaintiff had sued the wrong party, and there wasn’t enough factual or legal evidence to support the damages issued by the trial court.
The appellate court indicated there was sufficient evidence the club was owned by GCS, though it modified the damages to $250,000.
However, the state supreme court reversed the finding in favor of the plaintiff, ruling the trial court erred in its determination that there was sufficient legal evidence to establish GCS as the owner and operator of the nightclub. In fact, the lease agreement with the mall where the club was located named the LLC as the tenant. While the two firms did share at least one executive, they were in fact two separate entities. The plaintiff never presented any evidence to indicate the two were a joint enterprise or alter egos of the other.
All of this could have been avoided, had the plaintiff’s legal counsel simply amended the original complaint to include the LLC.
If you have been injured in West Palm Beach, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Graham Cent. Station, Inc. v. Pena, June 20, 2014, Texas Supreme Court
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