Orlando, FL November 07, 2012 - An Orange County jury Friday ordered Hilton Embassy Suites, Interstate Management Company, and SecurAmerica to pay a combined $1.7 million dollars in restitution to Troy Anderson, who was shot in 2008 while parking his car at the Hilton Embassy Suites on Jamaican Court, near International Drive.
Anderson filed a lawsuit in 2009 for the shooting that occurred on the premises of the Hilton Embassy Suites on September 26, 2008, when he was shot multiple times during a car jacking. He sustained serious and life-threatening injuries as a result. (Troy Anderson v. Hilton Hotels, et al., Case No. 2009-CA-040473-O, Fla. 9th Judicial Cir.).
Anderson's lawyers, Riley Allen and Simon Wiseman, explained that evidence in the ten day trial, as Allen said, showed “security was present, but spent more time delivering bed items, towels, and bell carts to guests rather than patrolling the exterior of the hotel and serving as a deterrent to crime. The hotel provided a 'uniformed housekeeper,' not security. The guests deserve better."
In addition, lights that would have illuminated the area where the crime occurred were burned out and hadn't been replaced for months. A former Regional Manager, Chuck Klawitter, testified the hotel would "wait until enough lights were burned out to justify getting a 'hi-lift' to replace the burned out lights." Klawitter and two other former SecurAmerica employees, Emmanuel Denau, a former Quality Assurance Supervisor, and Rob Wombolt, a former Operations Manager, testified they brought their security concerns to the attention of the hotel and the security company.
Witnesses testified that the area where hotel personnel instructed Mr. Anderson to park his vehicle was "very dark," even though it was only 50 or 60 feet from the hotel entrance. Crime Scene Investigator (CSI), Gerardo Bloise, Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSO), photographed and documented the scene and his photographs confirmed that a critical floodlight intended to illuminate the area where Mr. Anderson parked was not working on the night he was shot. CSI Bloise confirmed in his testimony the area was “very dark.”
Assistant Hotel General Manager, Victor Vergara, claimed and testified at trial, contrary to the evidence, that all the lights were working and the parking lot lighting was "perfect."
Jurors also learned that a similar strong-armed robbery had occurred in the parking lot of the Embassy Suites ten days prior. Deputy Lourdes Clayton of the OCSO appeared on the scene of the armed robbery ten days earlier and was on the Hilton Embassy Suites' property for approximately an hour. The hotel and security company denied knowing she was on the property though in following protocol she would have arrived with lights and sirens on as the call was a Code 3 emergency. She also completed an "incident report," which is a public record and which was brought out in her testimony at trial where she verified she was on the property for "approximately an hour." The victim who was robbed at gunpoint, 72-year-old Roger Kraft from Ohio, stayed an additional two nights at the hotel, yet the hotel and security company argued he did not tell anyone about being robbed despite the fact his wallet, cash, and credit cards were stolen. Allen told the jury the assertion was "ridiculous." Mr. Kraft unfortunately passed away a year and a half ago.
A "daily activity report" for September 26, 2008, introduced into evidence demonstrated the SecurAmerica guard was delivering "bell carts" and was responding to "guest requests" during the 25 minutes prior to the shooting rather than providing security of any kind. During the three hours prior to the shooting, the security guard spent more time responding to guests' requests for bell carts, towels, and bed items than providing security and patrolling the exterior of the hotel despite the fact this was a Friday night. The shooting occurred at approximately 11:15 p.m.
In addition to Vergara, the Vice President of SecurAmerica, Warren Bovich, also denied knowledge of the armed robbery ten days prior to the shooting of Mr. Anderson. The former employees, Klawitter, Denau, and Wombolt each testified they brought their concerns about security to Bovich, but Bovich was more "concerned about losing the contract" with Hilton Embassy Suites "than he was about security." Klawitter had also brought his concerns directly to Vergara after the incident ten days prior, but Vergara, despite the complaints from security guards about performing non security services and the strong-armed robbery ten days prior, did nothing to change the way security was provided at the Hilton Embassy Suites.
The former employees, Klawitter, Denau, and Wombolt, also testified they had seen a "daily activity report" and "incident report" from the robbery incident ten days prior. Vergara and Bovich denied having seen these documents despite the fact both would have been provided copies according to protocol.
"With foreseeability comes responsibility," Allen said. "It is clear that documents existed concerning the prior crime and it is further clear the documents were destroyed."
Allen further explained, "This allowed the jury to consider an instruction from the Court regarding destroyed documents and to infer the destroyed documents would have substantiated the armed robbery ten days prior, thus, making the crime against Mr. Anderson foreseeable and demonstrating that action should have been taken by Hilton Embassy Suites to avoid further crimes."
The "contract" between SecurAmerica and Hilton Embassy Suites called for the security guard to also provide housekeeping and engineering services. They claim it is the "industry standard" in the hotel industry, according to Wiseman. "That standard needs to change," said Wiseman. "Otherwise, it is nothing more than a façade."
Allen and Wiseman also uncovered evidence showing the hotel previously retained additional law enforcement personnel and security to protect its property when "expensive cars" were on its property during the "Florida Classic Weekend," the annual November football game between Bethune Cookman and Florida A&M, but apparently failed to take security measures when it came to protecting its guests.
MKG Hospitality ranked Hilton as the second largest hotel brand in the world at the end of 2011. Interstate Hotel Management's website claims they are the largest U.S. based hotel management company in the world and SecurAmerica is the 22nd largest security company in America.
Riley Allen and Simon Wiseman represented Troy Anderson. Michael Reed, Shelley Leinicke, and Lisset Hanewicz, all of Wicker, Smith, O'Hara, McCoy and Ford, P.A., represented Hilton Embassy Suites, and Steven Adamsky and Noah Bender of Mitrani, Rynor, Adamsky and Toland, P.A., represented SecurAmerica. The collective pre trial offer was $280,000.00. The jury allocated 72 percent of the negligence to Hilton Embassy Suites and 28 percent to SecurAmerica. The defendants denied all responsibility and asked the jury to return defense verdicts for each.