A security company agreed to pay $1 million to settle a negligent security lawsuit brought by the family of a South Florida man who was shot and killed by strangers in a mall parking lot where a raucous party had gone on for hours.
The family of Omarie Stephens, 30, sued State Security Inc., the company contracted by the Lauderhill Mall to provide a security guard. The family members and their lawyers argued that the guard should have been able to easily disperse the drug- and alcohol-fueled impromptu party, but he was nowhere to be seen.
Mr. Stephens, a car enthusiast who once worked as a flagman at a local racetrack, had spent Easter Sunday with family and friends attending a car show at a nearby park. After the event, they decided to go to a restaurant in the Lauderhill Mall that operates late-night hours. The mall is in Broward County, a few miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale.
While they were there, other car show attendees started occupying the parking lot for an open-air party. According to Law.com, at first, there were just a few cars, then there were 20, then there were dozens – enough to crowd the mall parking lot.
Eventually, shots rang out in the crowd, sending panicked people fleeing in every direction. Mr. Stephens was struck by a bullet as he was trying to escape the mayhem. He and another man who was also shot were rushed to Broward General Hospital, where they later died of their injuries.
Lawyers handling the negligent security suit for Mr. Stephens’ family told Law.com that Lauderhill Mall is in a high-crime area, and they found that the mall had better security than most other places in the area. The mall had a security surveillance system and an after-hours security patrol provided by State Security Inc., whose job was to constantly patrol the premises, hitting all the critical checkpoints to keep the parking lot safe for patrons.
There was a guard on duty that night, but he wasn’t mentioned in the police report. The guard, however, insisted in his deposition that he had alerted a police officer in front of a particular store within the outdoor mall complex before the shooting.
Lawyers investigating the incident obtained and reviewed three hours of video surveillance recorded from multiple angles. They found that during the three-hour period, the guard was not seen in front of the business talking to police. Lawyers said that the security guard was nowhere to be found in all the hours of surveillance. There were no police visible either.
When confronted with the footage, the security guard admitted that he had never been in front of the mall at all in the three-hour period.
“Their only job in the world is to keep people who don’t belong there off the property,” a lawyer for the Stephens family told Law.com. “There were serious questions about was he even there? Was he doing his job, and what’s going on here?”
“This couldn’t have been more simple to prevent,” he added. “This wasn’t a random robbery. This was something that built up over a period of hours. There’s a reason why you can’t allow an open-air nightclub to develop on your property.”
State Security settled the negligent security suit for $1 million – the maximum under its policy limits – after the plaintiffs’ lawyers demonstrated that the security guard never took action to address the situation.
Negligent Security claims
Premises Liability is the responsibility land or property owners have for accidents, injury or other incidents that occur on their real property. Real property may include buildings, machinery, wells, dams, pools, mines, canals, curbs and roads, among others. Property owners may also be liable for injuries that occur on their property as a result of conditions like snow and ice, wet floors, concealed holes, insufficient lighting, improperly secured mats or other hazards. Premises liability also applies to apartment complexes, sidewalks, road construction areas, elevators, escalators, playgrounds and amusement parks.
Negligent security is a related area of law, normally involving shootings, fights, stabbings, or other physical violence (including sexual assault) where severe injury or death occurs due to the establishment owner’s failure to take reasonable safety measures. When this occurs, the establishment owner, as well as those contractors charged with security, may be held responsible for the injuries suffered by individuals or groups of individuals on the premises.