Russell Kolins, Premises Liability Security Expert

Date of Verdict: March 14.
Court and Case No.: C.P. York County, No. 2015-SU-000373-71.
Judge: Richard K. Renn.
Type of Action: Wrongful death.
Injuries: Death.
Plaintiffs Counsel: Benjamin D. Andreozzi and Nathaniel L. Foote, Andreozzi & Associates, Harrisburg.
Plaintiffs Experts: Andrew Verzilli, economics, Lansdale; Russell Kolins, security/premises liability, Philadelphia.
Defense Counsel: Larry C. Heim, Katherman, Heim & Perry; York.

Comment: On August 18, 2013, the plaintiff’s decedent, Jaime Sanabria, 25, was a patron at George’s Tavern at 376 Walnut St., in York, Pennsylvania. During the course of the evening, a fight broke out at the bar. Sanabria attempted to break it up, but in doing so he was knocked to the floor. While lying stomach-down, another patron, Halim Bowen, got on top of Sanabria and shot him in the back at close range. Sanabria later died of the gunshot wound. Bowen was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Sanabria’s estate sued Bowen and tavern owner Anita’s Place Inc., alleging that the bar provided inadequate security. According to witnesses, Bowen, prior to the shooting, had hung around outside George’s Tavern for about an hour before finally being let inside. Bouncers had to turn away people because of the bar’s full capacity. Bowen allegedly persisted trying to get in, and offered to pay $20 even though a cover charge was only $2. Tavern patrons reacted to the gunshot by ducking or running for the exit doors, but Bowen did not react at all, according to witnesses.

Video surveillance from inside the tavern showed him calmly stepping over the dying Sanabria and making his way to an exit. George’s Tavern was required to use a metal-detecting wand to check all customers for weapons, as the tavern had been the site of numerous violent encounters and was considered a nuisance bar. The requirement was part of the former tavern’s provisional license with the state’s Liquor Control Board.

The estate’s counsel faulted the bouncer’s search of Bowen, and maintained that a decent search with a wand takes 30 seconds to one minute. However, evidence showed that the bouncer’s search of Bowen lasted about five seconds. The estate’s counsel presented a diagram of the proper use of a security wand by the wand manufacturer. Anita’s Place maintained that the security guard had properly used the wand and had sufficiently searched Bowen. Any liability found should be against Bowen, who was the shooter, counsel asserted.

Bowen, pro se, denied that he shot Sanabria. The court gave a curative instruction that the jury could not consider Bowen’s denials, given his conviction. Sanabria was taken by ambulance to a hospital for emergency surgery. The bullet had entered his back and exited his chest. He died during surgery. Sanabria is survived by a 10-year-old son.

Prior to his death, Sanabria had performed temp work. The estate’s expert in economics calculated his future lost earnings from $680,000 to $1.3 million. Sanabria’s sister and mother, who brought the suit on behalf of her son’s estate, testified about what kind of son, brother and father he was. His estate sought damages under the Wrongful Death and Survival Acts. The jury found Bowen 10 percent liable and Anita’s Place 90 percent liable. Sanabria’s estate was determined to receive $1,748,743.

Click here to schedule a consultation with Russell Kolins, Premises Security Liability Expert at Kolins Security Group.

This report first appeared on VerdictSearch, an ALM publication (https://www.law.com/thelegalintelligencer/2018/05/10/family-claimed-bars-lack-of-security-led-to-patrons-murder/?slreturn=20180414102807) and is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs counsel. Bowen was not asked to contribute, and Anita Place’s counsel declined to contribute.