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Negligent Security Seminar | March 2015

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$1,510,000 Verdict – Inadequate Security Case: Robbery Shooting (Aventura, FL)

Tim Jeffery was working near the Aventura Mall in North Miami-Dade county when he heard an elderly woman scream.  He watched as a man grabbed her purse and ran into a waiting truck.  He chased the truck on foot and knocked on the darkly-tinted window, demanding a return of the woman’s purse.  Instead of the purse being returned, he was shot by the robber in the chest, nearly causing his death.  Fortunately this heroic man survived and made an excellent recovery.  He was left with some scarring and discomfort in his arm.

John Elliott Leighton represented Tim and his wife, and tried the case to a Miami jury.  He demonstrated at trial that the security on the property and in the parking lot was lacking and there had been prior complaints of crime in the area where this took place. Despite the fact that this was not considered a “high crime” area, this shopping center attracted criminal incidents and the residents were particularly vulnerable.  This is an area populated by a lot of senior citizens.

The area where this shopping center was located is filled with condominiums and apartment buildings.  There is also a lot of retail in the region.  For criminals seeking easy targets, elderly women are what is known as a “soft target” in criminology.  The criminals who committed the robbery here were seeking a quick hit — to grab a purse and take off.  They had no way to expect that Tim Jeffery would step in to help.  That’s because despite it being a pretty affluent area, there had been robberies and attacks that were increasing in frequency.

In fact, one witness called to trial was the president of a nearby condominium association whose sister in law had been mugged in the same area.  He had sent a letter warning the property about the danger and asking whether they were going to wait until someone was killed.  The jury awarded Tim $1,510,000. This is the first known application of the “rescue doctrine” in an inadequate security case in the United States. In a rescue doctrine case, the duty that is owed to the initial victim is transferred to the person who has taken it upon themselves to rescue that person.  So even though Tim Jeffery was not the intended victim, the jury found that it was reasonable for him to come to the rescue of the woman being mugged.  Prior to trial a settlement was obtained from the landlord. Jeffery v. Publix Supermarkets.

This was a surprise to the defendants in the case.  They took the position that Tim was solely responsible for his own injuries because he threw himself into a situation where he was not the intended target.  Tim was initially an innocent bystander.  Then he became a “rescuer” when he ran after the robber and went to get this woman’s purse back.  For Tim, enough was enough.  In his mind, someone had to stop the abuse of the elderly by those who want to steal from easy targets.

The criminals were apprehended and Tim Jeffery was hailed as a hero in the Aventura community.  Even though he never thought he would be shot, he remarked that he would do it again because “it was the right thing to do.” Representing Tim Jeffery was not just a job for John Leighton…it was an honor.  After the verdict was returned, the jurors wanted to speak with Tim because they were so impressed by what kind of person he was.

The case became a landmark verdict since it was the first known case where a rescuer recovered damages in a negligent security case. It was particularly successful in light of the fact that at the time, Florida law allowed the negligent parties to point the finger at the criminals on the verdict form.  That is, under the case of Fabre v. Marin, the shopping center and supermarket could have the criminals listed as nonparty defendants and argue that they were the ones who really were responsible for Mr. Jeffery’s injuries.  Despite that, the jury found it was the premises that was negligent and not the criminals.  A few years after this case, Florida’s Supreme Court ruled that it was improper to compare the fault of a criminal party to that of a negligent party who was being sued for allowing the crime to occur.

Mr. Leighton’s success in this trial was recognized by being the featured case in an entire chapter of the book Persuasive Jury Communication: Case Studies From Successful Trials, Chapter 10: “Persuasion in a Premises Security Case” (Shephards/McGraw Hill, 1995). It has since been recognized as one of the leading negligent security cases in the country.

Mr. and Mrs. Jeffery later moved from the Aventura area up north to enjoy their lives together.

Jeffery case articles.pdf

Disclaimer: The information about past verdicts and settlements of the firm’s cases are based on the unique facts of each case. These amounts reflect the gross recovery in each case (before attorneys fees, expenses and medical costs are deducted). Although these results were obtained by our firm, they may not indicate the success or value of any other case. By clicking on Verdicts and Settlements you are acknowledging that each case is unique and must be evaluated on its own merits. The information contained here has not been reviewed or approved by The Florida Bar.

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