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On Aug. 6, 1997, Peggy Ann Selvaggio, 33, used a pay phone to call a 911 operator from the employee parking lot of a Harrah’s Casino Hotel, where she worked as a cocktail waitress. Her ex-fianc�, with whom she had broken up about a month before, approached her with a shotgun, and unloaded six shots that blew her out of her shoes. As the phone receiver dangled in the air, a tape recorder on the other end captured the sounds of her ex-boyfriend pursuing her, shooting again and driving away. Donald Burris, 46, a New Jersey contractor, was sentenced in 1999 to 65 years for her murder. After his conviction, the woman’s family sued him for pain and suffering and wrongful death. The suit, filed by two of Selvaggio’s brothers, also named Harrah’s as a defendant for failure to provide adequate security in the employee parking lot. An Atlantic City, N.J., jury has now awarded Selvaggio’s estate $12.6 million, of which Harrah’s would have to pay $111,760 under the judgment. Told to apportion the blame, the jury assigned 98 percent to Burris and 2 percent to Harrah’s. Selvaggio v. Burris, No. ATL-L-71-99 (Atlantic Co., N.J., Super. Ct.). Plaintiffs’ attorney John Borbi of Bafundo, Porter, Borbi & Clancy in Cherry Hill, N.J., said he plans to appeal the pretrial order by the judge that allowed the jury to apportion the blame. “Harrah’s was found guilty of negligent cause and should be responsible for the full compensatory award,” asserted Borbi, who unsuccessfully argued against the Harrah’s motion for apportioned blame. New Jersey case law makes him confident that the appellate court will overturn it, he said. Harrah’s attorney, Russell L. Lichtenstein of Atlantic City’s Cooper Perskie April Niedelman Wagenheim and Levenson, declined to comment due to the pending post-trial motions. Burris’ criminal defense lawyer, Edwin Jacobs of Atlantic City’s Jacobs & Barbone, who was not present at the civil trial, said that nothing in the criminal proceedings involved casino culpability. “The jury’s finding of 2 percent may be generous,” he said. During the two-week civil proceeding, the tape of Selvaggio’s murder was played before the jury of six women and three men. After eight hours of deliberations, the jury came back with an award of $5 million in compensatory damages to Selvaggio’s estate for her pain and suffering and $588,000 to her brothers, for loss of companionship. It also hit Burris with an additional $7 million in punitives. In building his case, Borbi said he mainly focused on Harrah’s because Burris’ guilt was already evident from his earlier conviction. All Harrah’s employees were required to park their cars in the casino’s lot, which was supposed to have a roving patrolman, said Borbi. Plaintiffs’ witnesses testified that for at least 30 minutes before the shooting occurred, there was no visible security in the lot, where Burris had been seen loitering. A Harrah’s policy prohibited employees from having facial hair. Burris wore a full beard and would have easily been spotted as a nonemployee by a security guard, Borbi argued.

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