Date of Verdict: Dec. 19, 2013.
Court and Case No.: C.P. Philadelphia No. 03717.
Judge: Rosalyn K. Robinson.
Type of Action: Negligence; breach of duty.
Injuries: Abdominal injuries; invasive surgeries.
Plaintiffs Counsel: Thomas A. Sprague and Stephen B. Lavner, Sprague & Sprague, Philadelphia.
Defense Counsel: Francis J. Deasey and Peter R. Kulp, Deasey, Mahoney, Valentini & North, Philadelphia.
Plaintiffs Experts: Ira S. Somerson, security, Upper Gwynedd, Pa.; Dr. Jerry Murphy, pain management, Philadelphia.
Defense Experts: Francis R. Murphy, security, Sarasota, Fla.
Comment: According to the plaintiff’s pretrial memorandum, on the evening of March 2, 2010, plaintiff Zsaron Simpson, a food services worker, was playing basketball with his cousin on courts in the gym owned and operated by World Fitness & Sports Center Inc.
An argument allegedly began after Mujahid Muhammad, who was not playing basketball at the time, told Simpson and his cousin to score the game differently so it would progress faster, the memo said. Following the argument, Muhammad began using an exercise bicycle on the court’s sidelines and called an accomplice. Muhammad later began talking with Simpson moments before Simpson was struck on the head and mouth by an unknown assailant. An altercation broke out, and while Simpson’s cousin attempted to assist Simpson, the cousin was shot twice and Simpson was shot once in the stomach, the memo said.
Simpson sued World Fitness & Sports Center Inc., alleging that the security was negligent and that the defendant breached the duty of care.
Simpson, in his memo, argued that only two employees were working at the time of the incident (one at the facility’s register and another at the tanning booth) and no personnel were watching the gym. Simpson further noted in his memo that identification was not required to enter the gym, and no security measures were taken at the entrance.
The memo further argued that the gym had been on notice, as an aggravated assault occurred on the premises on Dec. 24, 2008. The memo also argued that hard fouls, arguments, aggressive physical contact and occasional bloody noses occurred during games.
An expert also opined that the security was inadequate, the memo said.
World Fitness, in its pretrial memo, argued that the gym had no duty to Simpson and no notice that a shooting was about to occur. World Gym’s memo further said there had never been any prior incidents involving gun violence in the gym, and that nobody had previously been removed from the gym due to fighting during basketball games.
World Fitness’ security expert opined that there was no reason to increase security before the incident.
According to Simpson’s memo, Simpson was taken by ambulance to Aria Health’s Torresdale, Pa., facility, where he underwent several emergency procedures, including a laparotomy, a small bowel resection and repairs of the duodenum, inferior vena cava and lip laceration.
On March 4, 2010, Simpson underwent another exploratory surgery, after a pancreatic duct leak was suspected. He also underwent an irrigation of the abdomen and stenting. He was later transferred to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, where he underwent another exploratory laparotomy and a jejunal reconstruction surgery. He also underwent the installation of a jejunal feeding tube.
Following his release, Simpson was confined to his home for two months. He continued to have chest pain, abdominal cramps and frequent diarrhea, the memo said. He also said in the memo that he can no longer perform sit-ups or lift heavy objects, and that he sustained a large scar that will lead to adhesions.
Simpson claimed he paid a total of $355,372 in medical expenses, and was unable to return to work for 12 weeks.
Simpson’s medical expert said Simpson’s injuries are permanent.
World Fitness, in its memo, contended that Simpson’s wage losses were not linked to the shooting.
After the plaintiff demanded $1 million and the parties were unable to settle, the case was tried for four days. The jury awarded Simpson $2.15 million. After the defendants made a motion for remitter, arguing that the plaintiff’s evidence regarding medical bills was inadequate, the judge awarded an additional $71,789.
— Max Mitchell, of the Law Weekly