First Lawsuit Filed in Wake of Jacksonville Shooting

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CN) – The first lawsuit stemming from last weekend’s shooting at an eSport event in Jacksonville was filed Thursday in Duval County circuit court.

In his 49-page complaint, plaintiff Jacob Mitich claims the venue and sponsors of the event did not have an adequate security plan, did not conduct background investigations of potential participants, and did not enforce safety codes for the event’s location.

Instead, event planners “went forward with the Madden Classic tournament with full knowledge that attendees would be arriving from all over the country and unfamiliar with the local environs and dangers,” the complaint says.

The named defendants are Electronic Arts Inc., Jacksonville Landing Investments LLC, Property Management Support Inc., Sleiman Enterprises Inc., Chicago Pizza & Sports Grille II Inc., GLHF Esports Bar LLC, Allied Universal Corp. and Clifton Comastro.

Mitich says he and other gamers considered the venue at which the Madden NFL tournament was being held “small and disorganized.”

He claims the GLHF Game Bar in Chicago Pizza, located at The Landing, and was “set up in an old-school way” where players sat beside each other and played on a single monitor.  This differed from other video game  events where players, while in the same room, often have their own monitors and not seated right next to each other.

“EA’s employees would attempt to clear the room after each round to allow players to move in and out. Players had to step over each other just to get to the restroom,” the complaint says.

Mitich claims he saw the gunman, David Katz, asking where certain gamers were located after he lost his match late Sunday morning. The lawsuit says Katz may have left as there were “no restrictions on players coming into or leaving the venue.”

Katz was five feet away from Mitich when he “aimed his pistol’s laser pointer and opened fire on [Elijah] Clayton.”

Mitich says heard “three balloons popping” while he was winning a match against another player but ran when someone yelled “GUN!” He says he then “leaped over a fellow gamer, dropped his cellphone and scrambled past others” and felt pain in his back and leg during his escape.

Making things worse, the complaint says, Mitich’s mother believed her son was dead after learning of the shooting on the news and not being able to get hold of him.

Katz killed two of Mitich’s friends and seriously wounded several others. The shooter eventually turned his gun on himself, taking his own life.

Mitich says that after he was treated for his gunshot wounds,  he was taken to a crisis center, where an EA employee who told him “it was time to get out, that things were just too crazy and risky” after being in the industry for 15 years.

“We are bringing this lawsuit to hold those responsible accountable and to ensure that gamers like Jake are able to get together to pursue their passion without having to fear for their lives,” Attorney James Young of Morgan & Morgan said in a released statement late Thursday.

The Landing has been the scene of violent incidents in the past. In August 2012, numerous fights broke out at a country music event and a 22-year-old man was run over by a pick-up truck in the fights aftermath. In October 2012, a Chicago NFL fan “was stabbed to death in an Irish bar” and in January 2017, a double shooting occurred during an art event called “Art Walk” which resulted in one death.

“There are typical security measures and policies which exist at E-sports events around the country, including but not limited to metal detectors, contracted security guards, local law enforcement, no-re-entry polices, bag and backpack inspections, etc. A competing tournament for Madden players called Armando, uses these tactics and practices and has purportedly never had an issue with violence,” the complaint states.

Additionally, Katz, the 24-year-old gunman from Baltimore, had been discussed among gamers on  Madden NFL message board threads about  “how frustrating an opponent David was but that his behavior was often odd.”

According to the complaint, Katz “rarely spoke, often seemed socially awkward and uncomfortable, and did not interact with his fellow gamers in a normal way.” Electronic Arts “should have identified him as a potential risk at in-person tournaments” due to the information about Katz that Electronic Arts should have known.

The complaint says Clayton, one of the deceased victims, previously reported Katz to Electronic Arts after Katz displayed threatening behavior, “but nothing was done.”

In the wake of the shooting, Electronic Arts recently announced it is establishing The Jacksonville Tribute, and would make a $1 million contribution to support the victims of the mass shooting. A Jacksonville Tribute livestream will also be held sometime on September 6th to help “unite the gaming community,” the company said.

Electronic Arts also cancelled the remainder of the Madden Classic tournament qualifiers to improve security measures for future events.

Mitich seeks damages for bodily injury, medical expenses and loss of earnings.

In a written statement, Sleiman Enterprises said, “We are deeply saddened at the incident and pray for everyone involved. The Jacksonville Landing is fully cooperating with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and all ongoing investigations.”

Allied Universal does not comment on pending litigation.

Electronic Arts and GLHF did not immediately respond to Courthouse News’ late Thursday e-mail requests for comment.

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