This case shows how important it is for business owners – even an amusement park – to keep their premises clear of trouble on a minute-by-minute basis.
Unfortunately there are places in perfectly fine locations where that vigilance is missing.
The law expects businesses to keep their premises and the approaches to those premises safe for the people they invite. If you can, imagine a theme park that was essentially an incubator for gang violence where gang members were known to gather and torment invitees. Consider a well-known theme park where park employees themselves were often gang members. Then think about what might happen if a patron of the park were attacked as he exited the area.
Just such a nearby theme park was the scene of the brutal beating of a young man by a group of thugs. The young man’s life was forever changed by the event. It is no wonder the owners of the corporation hoped to downplay the tragic consequences of their negligence.
The facts in the case of Martin v. Six Flags Over Georgia II, L.P., 301 Ga. 323 (2017), handled by colleagues of ours, are as follows.
On the day of his attack, while the victim was visiting the park he became aware of a group of 15 to 40 young men who were dressed similarly and behaving badly. The group was running through the park yelling obscenities and causing general commotion.
According to testimony, the gang’s behavior disturbed other patrons of the park including two families who challenged the gang for nearly knocking over a small child. Park security came to handle this altercation but when the gang was reprimanded, they continued to threaten the family. The threats included “finger-gun” gestures the family recognized to mean a serious danger. Gang members warned, “We’ll get you in the parking lot.”
In spite of these threats, security personnel did not eject the gang members from the park as park policy dictated, but allowed them to remain inside even though it was obvious that they were planning mayhem.
Eventually, the families asked for help from security to leave the park safely.
When this same gang of young criminals spoiling for a fight was thwarted in their plan to further terrorize these two families, they turned on the plaintiff in this action who was minding his own business, just trying to catch a bus home.
Seeing the gang approach, the plaintiff attempted to avoid them, but was unable to do so. He was set upon by members of the gang with brass knuckles. The severe attack left the victim comatose for seven days, and resulted in debilitating permanent brain damage and other injuries.
When the beaten man brought a lawsuit against the theme park and four known members of the gang, he became a victim for the second time.
Instead of acknowledging that the attack had been planned inside the theme park and actually facilitated by their own security guard’s allowing the gang to remain inside the park, the attorneys for the defendants attempted to claim that because the beating happened outside the park, they were not liable.
The jury found that the theme park was 92 percent liable for the damages and the balance of the damages were the fault of the gang members. This, too, the corporate attorneys railed against and appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
They claimed that their liability was ended when the victim left the park property to evade his attackers. The Court of Appeals did not eliminate their responsibility but did grant another trial to determine the apportionment of the liability. At this point, the defendant theme park wanted a complete re-trial – another chance to convince a jury that they were innocent, which the appeals court denied.
In the end the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia was needed to put an end to the theme park’s quibbling over the degree of their responsibility. Ultimately, the retrial was ordered but only regarding the degree to which the theme park was responsible.
Few of us have the funds to take on a big corporation in court. Corporate coffers allow for funding appeal after appeal. Unfortunately, this knowledge can slow down or even stop innocent victims from pursuing a court case. This helps to perpetuate the corporate negligence that is the root of the matter.
Nevertheless, the law in Georgia seeks always to make the courtroom a level playing field. Big money does not always win the day. We cheer the courageous victims and fellow Georgia attorneys who continue to fight on for justice even when it appears they are out-numbered and out-gunned.