Olga Woltering and her husband, Ralph, thought they’d have a safer trip to Fort Lauderdale if they left Georgia one day ahead of a snowstorm threatening their state.
They were wrong.
Olga Woltering was one of five people killed Jan. 6, 2017, in a mass shooting by gunman Esteban Santiago-Ruiz, who opened fire in the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Now, her family wants to hold Delta Air Lines, airport operators, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and two security companies responsible for her death as other suits loom. It retained Di Pietro Partners, a Fort Lauderdale law firm headed in part by former Broward Judges Jay Spechler and Gary Cowart.
The firm represents two other families whose relatives died or were injured in the airport shooting. It plans to file additional suits on their behalf.
Meanwhile, Woltering’s son, Timothy, brought suit Monday in Broward Circuit Court, alleging negligence and negligent security, among a slew of tort claims.
The 17-count complaint runs 226 pages, including 73 pages of allegations and 153 of exhibits. It names Delta, AlliedBarton Security Services LLC, Allied Universal Corp., Universal Protection Services LLC, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Broward County Board of Commissioners, which operates the airport. It levels against all defendants wrongful death claims and allegations of negligent failure to provide adequate security, common law negligence, loss of consortium, negligence per se and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Against Delta, it claims breach of contract, breach of express warranty and breach of implied warranty.
“This is not a case about a random act,” Woltering family attorney David Di Pietro, of Di Pietro Partners in Fort Lauderdale, said. “This is a case where a Delta passenger murdered another passenger. Delta is responsible for the shooter’s actions because it was Delta’s passenger.”
The airline declined to address the allegations.
“Delta is saddened by the 2017 Fort Lauderdale tragedy but has no other comment at this time,” spokesman Morgan Durrant said Thursday.
Sheriff spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright also declined comment, citing an agency policy to not comment on pending litigation.
Woltering, 84, flew to South Florida on Delta Air Lines to board a cruise and celebrate her husband’s 90th birthday, just before their 65th wedding anniversary. She never made it to the vacation or milestone celebrations. Her killer, Santiago-Ruiz, was 26 at the time of the shooting and had traveled to Fort Lauderdale from Alaska with one checked bag containing a 9 mm handgun. She died when Santiago-Ruiz retrieved the gun and used it to open fire on fellow travelers.
Di Pietro said attorneys for all parties were present to record a video statement to preserve Woltering’s elderly husband’s testimony.
Bruce Marx of Marlow Adler Abrams Newman & Lewis in Coral Gables represents the Broward County Board of Commissioners, while Michael Piper and Christopher Stearns of Johnson Anselmo Murdoch Burke Piper & Hochman represent the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Anthony Strasius and Samantha Funt of Wilson Esler Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker in Miami represent the security companies. Jeffrey Ellis and Patricia Leid of Clyde & Co. US are Delta’s counsel. They did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“This entire tragedy could have been avoided had Delta taken simple steps to safeguard … its passengers,” Di Pietro said. “It’s our belief that there is a high duty and high standard of care for a common carrier in a high-risk area—airports—to maintain the safety of their passengers. … My client was a customer of Delta Air Lines. She wasn’t just a random person in a random place. … They had specific knowledge of this risk inside an airport.”
News reports indicate Santiago-Ruiz got into an argument on one leg of his trip while traveling from Anchorage on Delta to Minneapolis and then Fort Lauderdale.
Di Pietro said Delta staff’s action suggests they knew the weapon posed a potential threat, because instead of placing it on the baggage terminal, they had an agent page Santiago-Ruiz to retrieve his gun from a service counter.
“Why would Delta hand over a firearm with ammunition in a crowded terminal to someone who they knew to be unruly, disruptive and argumentative?” Di Pietro said.