Trusted Voice® Blog

Monday, February 29, 2016

In Pursuit of Justice

Little did I know the phone call I received on January 9, 2004, would lead me down a long, winding road in pursuit of justice for a man shot and left for dead in a robbery attempt. A road filled with many obstacles and setbacks. Eight years later, that road come to an end. Justice, although delayed, was finally served. This is Brian’s story. I hope it encourages others pursuing justice to keep fighting and not give up.

It’s December 6, 2003. Brian is filling in for the security guard at the Wilson Farms convenience store on Jay Street in Rochester. Around 11:00 p.m., three men enter the store. Nine seconds later, Brian is shot in the head at close range; he’s on the floor in a massive pool of blood fighting for his life. It's a miracle he survives.

I’m asked to investigate the possibility of bringing a civil lawsuit against the store. This is what I find: the lighting outside the store was poor – easy to see inside the store from the outside; hard for a security guard to see outside the store from the inside; the counter and cash register were negligently placed just inside the front door, not a safe design from a security standpoint; there’s so much clutter in the store, Brian can't see the gunmen as they enter the store through the front door; as he turns the corner of a clutter filled aisle, he’s suddenly face-to-face with an assailant with a sawed off shotgun pointing at him; he has no time to use his gun and defend himself; rather than keeping large amounts of cash in a lockbox that no one, including a robber, could access, the store had several thousand dollars in the cash register; police records revealed one robbery after another in the previous four years – so many the Rochester Police Dept. nicknamed Wilson Farms "stop and rob"; in the previous ten months alone there were three holdups at gunpoint at the Jay Street store; two employees were shot during these holdups; one of the holdups occurred just one month prior; Wilson Farms did not tell Brian any of this when he filled in that night.   

Knowing the case would be very difficult and expensive, I began looking for skilled and experienced negligent security attorneys to co-counsel the case with. I had no idea how hard this would be. A local firm worked on the case with me for sixteen months and then suddenly bailed out. I spent the next nineteen months trying to convince multiple attorneys and firms to co-counsel the case with me. Tremendous time and effort went into this. One by one, however, eleven law firms across the state and country declined to take on the case with me. Security guard work is inherently dangerous (an assumption of the risk type argument), one said. Too complex, another concluded, a jury won’t understand it. Another told me a jury would likely find the shooter one hundred percent responsible, thereby absolving Wilson Farms of liability. No one, but me, thought the case was winnable. 

If two good lawyers turn a case down, that's usually a sign it's not worth pursuing. Something inside me, however, kept telling me justice was on Brian's side and kept me from giving up. Brian's faith also spurred me on. Although he lost his eye and has other very serious and permanent injuries, I never heard him complain once. Together, we kept putting our trust in the Lord – that He was a God of justice and would see to it that justice was done.

Our prayers were answered. But not without more twists and turns. A friend from my law school days agreed to co-counsel the case with me just before the three-year statute of limitations expired. We filed the law suit on the very last day it could be filed. After the lawsuit was filed, however, the store tried to dismiss the case. We had to win an appeal to keep the case going.

At trial, the Rochester Police Dept. provided very helpful testimony. There had been over 100 robberies/robbery attempts at Wilson Farms stores in the Rochester area including six shootings and one death. Something as simple as changing a light bulb was a long, convoluted process that could take months.

During the trial, my friend attended a prayer meeting and asked for prayer for the trial. After the prayer meeting, someone shared two Bible verses (Ezekiel 22:29, 30) that have been pivotal in their life. Those verses speak of the Lord searching for a man to build up the wall and stand in the gap for justice in the midst of a land full of robbery and oppression. Those verses were read to the jury during our closing statement and the jury was told that Brian was the man who stood in the gap for justice at Wilson Farms on that fateful night. On March 9, 2012, the jury found Wilson Farms 50% responsible for the shooting and rendered a verdict for $3.4 million. 

I have handled a number of negligent security cases. Although these cases are inherently difficult, that does not deter me. 

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