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Georgia Supreme Court Affirms Theme Park’s Liability in Gang Beating Case

Last year we discussed a Georgia Court of Appeals decision ordering a new trial in a premises liability case involving a well-known theme park in Cobb County. The case began when two patrons and their families were repeatedly threatened by rival gangs who were known to frequent the theme park. Even after some of the gang members threatened to shoot the patrons in the parking lot, park security failed to eject the assailants.

Shortly thereafter, a group of about 40 gang members did, in fact, approach the families in the parking lot, which was still on theme park property. Although the families escaped the approaching mob, some of the gang members proceeded to beat a bystander who happened to be seated at a bus stop near the park’s entrance.

The bystander later sued four of the men who attacked him. He also named the theme park owner as a defendant under Georgia’s premises liability law. A jury eventually found the plaintiff was entitled to $35 million in damages and apportioned 92% of the blame to the theme park.

Martin v. Six Flags Over Georgia II, L.P.

As we previously noted, the Court of Appeals threw out the verdict and ordered a new trial. While the appeals court said the theme park could be held legally liable for the plaintiff’s injuries, even though the attack technically occurred outside of its property, the jury failed to consider the relative fault of some of the other attackers. For that reason, a new trial on all issues was required.

But in a June 5 decision, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously held that that would not be necessary. The justices said a new trial was only required to re-apportion the award of damages. The theme park was not entitled to a new trial with respect to its liability.

As the Court pointed out, there was more than enough evidence introduced at trial to permit the jury to conclude that “a gang-related attack on a park patron was reasonably foreseeable.” Not only was there a well-documented history of gang activity in the area, the Court noted that some of the gang members were off-duty theme park employees. A Cobb County police officer also told the jury that prior to the attack, he had told the theme park’s management they needed a full-time “police presence.” Management replied the “park’s budget could not accommodate that need.” A park security guard testified that his department “lacked adequate resources” and management cared more about preventing the theft and money and goods than protecting the “physical safety and security of its patrons and employees.”

That said, the Supreme Court agreed with the theme park and the Court of Appeals that the jury should have considered the relative liability of two other individuals who participated in the attack before apportioning damages. But unlike the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court said this issue could be decided separate from the theme park’s liability. So while the $35 million judgment stands, the theme park may end up being on the hook for less of it following the partial retrial.