ST. LOUIS (CN) – Upholding a $20.5 million verdict for a man brutalized outside a Jack in the Box, a Missouri appeals court noted the restaurant’s reputation for attracting “weirdos.”
Ali Aziz spent two years in a coma after he was beaten and robbed before dawn on June 20, 2010, outside a Jack in the Box in St. Louis.
He is brain damaged, unable to walk, sit, stand or take care of himself in any way.
Though a city jury put the man’s damages at $25 million in 2013, the court reduced that award to $20.5 million after accounting for Aziz’s responsibility for the attack.
Aziz’s mother presented various evidence about the fast-food chain’s responsibility for the attack, according to a ruling Tuesday by the Missouri Court of Appeals.
One Jack in the Box employee testified that “drunks” and “weirdos” congregate at the 24-hour restaurant on weekend nights, when they only keep a drive-through window open.
The night of Aziz’s attack had been a “crazy” one, the employee testified, and his attackers descended on the restaurant parking lot sometime before 5 a.m.
Customers pulled away because of the group’s presence, but no Jack in the Box employee contacted their security company or took any other action to try and make the group disperse.
A drive-thru employee had asked her manager to call the police before the 5:15 attack on Aziz, but the manager later admitted that he had “not [been] paying attention to the video monitors and was counting money in anticipation of an upcoming shift change.”
The attack on Aziz lasted about 90 seconds, and another customer in the drive-thru lane called 911 at approximately 5:18 a.m.
Police were a minute away by the time the restaurant manager called them at 5:26 a.m., pressured again by the drive-thru worker.
Aziz’s mother claimed the fast-food giant failed to prevent the fight, poorly trained its employees and violated its own policies for dealing with disruptive customers.
When Jack in the Box appealed the ruling, a spokesman for the company told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the evidence did not support the verdict.
A three-judge panel of the appellate court’s Eastern District kept the verdict intact Tuesday.
“Plaintiff presented evidence of breach by showing that defendant could have taken steps to disperse the … group [of attackers], but failed to do so, and plaintiff presented medical testimony demonstrating proximate cause,” Judge Robert Clayton III wrote for the court. “Again, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the jury’s verdict and giving plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences, the evidence presented at trial demonstrates defendant had time and opportunity to prevent plaintiff’s injury.”
Jack in the Box likewise failed to show that it deserved a new trial since Aziz’s physician, Witt Jamry, pleaded guilty to health care fraud before the trial but after he gave deposition testimony.
“Dr. Jamry testified on plaintiff’s injuries and his diagnosis served as the basis for Dr. [Therese] Bright’s damage calculations,” Clayton wrote. “Defendant did not offer any evidence to rebut the material facts in Dr. Jamry’s testimony. Defendant did not call its own medical expert or life care planner at trial. In addition, defendant did not have plaintiff examined by its own physician, as it had a right to do. Because defendant did not present any contrary evidence, defendant cannot show that exclusion of Dr. Jamry’s conviction prejudiced it by materially affecting the outcome of the trial or the damage award.”
Presiding Judge Patricia Cohen and Judge Roy Richter concurred.
Four people – three men and a woman – pleaded guilty to the Aziz attack and have gone to prison for it.
Earnest Carter was sentenced to 12 years in prison; Jasmine Jeffries to 15 years; Johnnie Lane to five years; and Rwoeshan Booker to 13 years, the Post-Dispatch reported. The attackers ranged in age from 17 to 23 on the night of the attack.
- Suing Amazon
- Ecuadoreans Can Seek Chevron Assets in Canada