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Piazza v. Kellim – Nightclub Shooting Liability Lawsuit

The family of a teen foreign exchange student who was fatally shot outside of a nightclub in Portland, Ore. will be allowed to continue pursuit of their premises liability lawsuit following a new ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court.nightclub1

Peruvian Martha Paz de Noboa Delgado was killed in 2009 as she waited outside of a teen nightclub with a group of other foreign exchange students. She had been dropped off at the location, reportedly in a rough part of town, by her host family. She was just 17-years-old. It was later revealed the 24-year-old gunman suffered from schizophrenia. He opened fire on the group of students, wounding seven and killing two before turning the gun on himself.

Delgado’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit, Piazza v. Kellim, against the nightclub and related companies, as well as against the foreign exchange organization. The $1.8 million claim argues that the owners of the club and related firms failed to take reasonable measures to protect customers. Namely, they forced young patrons to wait outside in what they knew was a high-crime area. The club and others nearby had a long history of problems with crime, and yet did not allow customers to wait inside for entry. The lawsuit further asserts the club did not have sufficient security. Against the student foreign exchange program, plaintiffs asserted a failure to provide adequate training to the host family. 

Plaintiff’s complaint invoked two special relationships between defense and decedent:

  • A premises liability relationship between possessors of land (defendant nightclub) and those who are invited onto the site for business purposes (decedent);
  • An entity or person (defendant organization) entrusted with the care of a child (decedent).

Defendants didn’t dispute the fact that they had a special relationship under which there was an obligation to take reasonable precautions to protect decedent.

Initially, a trial court ruled there was not enough evidence to prove the gunman’s crime – characterized by the lower court as a “mass murder” – was foreseeable. The trial court granted defense motion to dismiss, finding the slayings were impossible to predict.

An appeals court, however, reversed, finding the lower court used a legal standard that was too stringent for summary judgment. Specifically, the judges gave considerable weight to the fact that this area where the shooting occurred was not the first shooting at this particular nightclub or in this area. In fact, so rampant were these crime problems that the area had been targeted for high-profile police enforcement and club owners had met numerous times with local authorities. It was not as if they weren’t aware violence was a possible threat to patrons in the Old Town/ Chinatown district.

The defense appealed that ruling to the Oregon Supreme Court, which recently affirmed. Although the appellate panel had been divided on this issue, the state high court determined there was enough evidence that would allow a reasonable juror to find the girl’s death was a reasonably foreseeable result of defendant’s conduct – i.e., failure to allow patrons to wait inside and/or to provide beefed up security.

The court noted that some of plaintiff’s evidence – i.e., violent crimes that took place in the neighborhood over the course of many decades sometimes several blocks away from this site – are not in and of themselves pertinent to the foreseeability analysis. However, there was enough evidence to show that there was a history of recent violent crimes at this particular location that supported plaintiff’s theory of foreseeability. Therefore, the case can survive a motion to dismiss and continue on to the trial phase.

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Additional Resources:

Piazza v. Kellim, July 21, 2016, Oregon Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Bowers v. P. Wile’s, Inc. – Garden Store Slip-and-Fall, Aug. 4, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Injury Lawyer Blog

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