Lowry v. J.W.R.
Date of Verdict: Nov. 30, 2018.
Court and Case No.: C.P. Allegheny No. GD-15-017902.
Judge: Donald R. Walko Jr.
Type of Action: Wrongful death, premises liability.
Plaintiffs Counsel: Steven M. Barth; Barth & Associates, Pittsburgh.
Plaintiffs Expert: Russell Kolins, security/premises liability, Philadelphia.
Defense Counsel: Wayne V. DeLuca and John D. Eddy, PGH Law, Pittsburgh.
On Oct. 18, 2013, plaintiffs’ decedent Donald Lowry, 46, was fatally shot by Wesley Richards at JR’s Bar, in Pittsburgh. A bouncer intervened, but another patron, Walter Banks, struck the bouncer with a bottle. The bouncer, though stunned, was able to push Richards and Banks outside the bar. The two men fled and were later apprehended. They were criminally charged and are imprisoned.
Lowry’s estate, which was represented by his mother and sister, sued Richards; Banks; the bar’s owner, J.W.R. Inc.; and the premises’ owner, Aaron Auber. The estate alleged that Richards assaulted and battered Lowry, that Banks contributed to the incident, and that the remaining defendants negligently failed to provide adequate security.
A default judgment was entered against Richards and Banks, after they did not answer the estate’s pleadings. The court determined that they were negligent, that their negligence was a factual cause of harm to Lowry, and that their conduct was outrageous.
Surveillance footage of the incident was played at trial. Lowry’s counsel maintained that the bar and Auber failed in their duties to provide a safe and enjoyable environment to its patrons, and to protect them from foreseeable harm.
The estate’s expert in security opined that, since the bar had taken measures to hire security at its establishment, it had an obligation to make sure the individuals were properly and adequately trained and supervised. The expert determined that the bar failed to provide proper and adequate security to screen patrons entering the establishment for weapons, as Richards was able to enter the bar carrying a weapon.
The defense argued that Richards and Banks were solely responsible for the fatal incident, and it maintained that JR’s Bar and Auber took all reasonable security measures to avoid violent incidents. The bouncer testified that he used a handheld metal detector on every patron the evening of the incident, including Richards and Banks, and found that neither man was carrying a firearm. The defense asserted that Richards somehow snuck the gun into the bar undetected.
The defense further argued that, in its 30-plus years, JR’s bar never had a violent incident or ever had its liquor license revoked or suspended.
Lowry was taken by ambulance to a hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. He is survived by five children. His estate sought damages under the Wrongful Death and Survival Acts. Lowry’s estate further sought punitive damages against Richards, Banks, Auber and J.W.R.
The defense maintained that Lowry’s estate was not entitled to any damages.
The jury found that J.W.R. and Auber were not negligent. The jury awarded $750,300 in punitive damages against Richards and Banks. Zero damages in wrongful death and survival action were awarded.
This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs counsel and counsel of Auber and J.W.R. The remaining defendants’ counsel were not asked to contribute.
—This report first appeared in VerdictSearch, an ALM publication