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A Florida jury has awarded $5.2 million to the family of a slain tourist after finding that Alamo Rent-A-Car failed to warn the victim and her husband about a high-crime area near Miami. Four years ago, Dutch tourists Gerrit and Tosca Dieperink rented an Alamo car in Tampa and planned to drop it off in Miami. The couple got lost in the Liberty City area, near Miami, stopped at a gas station to ask for directions and were targeted by robbers who recognized the car as rented. Tosca Dieperink was shot and killed. Her family sued, saying that Alamo was negligent for not warning the Dieperinks of high crime in the Liberty City area. Their attorney, Alex Alvarez, of Coconut Grove, Fla.’s Hillencamp & Alvarez, told jurors that Alamo had a duty to warn the Dutch tourists, even though their car was rented in Tampa. After a seven-day trial, jurors deliberated little more than an hour before reaching their verdict on May 9. Alamo said it will appeal. TROUBLE IN LIBERTY CITY In the three years before the killing, 65% of all Alamo customers robbed in Dade County were robbed in the Liberty City area, Alvarez said. He noted that the police had had regular meetings with security executives of rental car companies in the Miami area and recommended that they caution customers who might take a wrong exit into the area. “In areas where criminals are targeting tourists, case law imposes a legal duty on rental car companies to adequately warn their customers,” said Alvarez, a former Miami-Dade County police officer. “It’s only fair and reasonable to expect that when a rental car company knows tourists are being attacked in certain areas — and when they know their customers are going to be traveling in those areas — those customers should be warned.” Alvarez’s case was bolstered by a jury charge from Circuit Judge Phil Bloom, who told jurors that Alamo had a duty to warn its customers of foreseeable criminal conduct. Bloom relied on a 1996 decision by the Florida 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, which revived a lawsuit filed by a British tourist who had been shot and wounded by robbers who targeted her because of her rental car. Shurben v. Dollar Rent-A-Car, 676 So.2d 467. That case has yet to go to trial. Miami lawyer Roland Gomez, who represented Alamo, declined to comment on the verdict. Cheryl Budd, Alamo’s senior vice president of corporate communications, said, “We continue to believe that Alamo is in no way responsible for Mrs. Dieperink’s death. … In our opinion, it is neither right nor reasonable to expect Alamo or any other travel-related company to identify potentially high-crime areas in all cities throughout the country and to somehow prohibit tourists from wandering into those areas.” ISSUE OF REDLINING During trial, Gomez accused Alvarez of using misleading statistics. He said the vast majority of the crimes against tourists in Liberty City that were cited by Alvarez were not nearly as serious as the fatal robbery involving Tosca Dieperink. Gomez also accused the plaintiffs of requiring rental car companies to “redline” high-crime — and predominantly black — neighborhoods, opening up the industry to attacks for discrimination. In his closing arguments, he said, “That’s what they want to use as the basis, that Alamo should redline that community.” In an interview, Alvarez strongly disagreed. “This is all a crock of bull,” he said. “Our jury rejected that completely. Alamo only cares about its profits.” Alvarez noted that the six-person jury included two blacks, two Hispanics, one person of West Indian descent and one white. “They’re trying to make this into a racial issue, but a minority jury found them responsible,” Alvarez said. Last month, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a college had a special duty to warn a student with an internship at a family services agency that there had been a number of crimes at or near the agency’s parking lot, Alvarez noted. “I think we’re on pretty strong ground on appeal,” he said.

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