Maryland Police, Nightclub Sued for Negligence After Fatal Shooting

In some cases, a plaintiff may allege that his or her injuries were caused by the negligence of multiple defendants.  A recent appeal in a wrongful death action, for example, involved claims against the Baltimore Police Department, a nightclub, and an adjoining parking lot’s owner.  In Torbit v. Baltimore City Police Dep’t (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Nov. 16, 2016), two people were killed and several others were injured when police responded to an active shooter situation outside a nightclub.  The surviving family members of the victims filed a negligence lawsuit afterward.  The trial court ruled in pre-trial motions that the police were not grossly negligent in firing their guns at the shooter, nor were the nightclub defendants liable for actions prior to the shooting.

pistolOn appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the police department’s motion to dismiss was granted in error.  In a negligence action, a plaintiff must allege facts demonstrating that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, that the defendant breached that duty, that the plaintiff suffered an actual injury or loss, and that the loss or injury proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of the duty.  In Maryland, police do not owe an enforceable tort duty to the public at large.  Plaintiffs can only prevail if they prove the existence of a special relationship, showing that the local government or police officer affirmatively acted to protect the victim or a specific group of individuals, thereby inducing the victim’s reliance upon the police protection.

In Torbit, the plaintiffs alleged that the police department failed to establish adequate policies, rules, and guidelines, and it failed to adequately train and prepare its employees in operational realities related to crowd control.  The appeals court explained that a failure to act, by definition, cannot satisfy the requirement of an affirmative act.  As a result, since there was no affirmative act to create such a relationship, the police officers did not owe the plaintiffs a duty of care.  Accordingly, the court affirmed the dismissal of the negligence claim against the police department.

The plaintiffs also contended that the summary judgment motion granted in favor of the nightclub and parking lot owner was erroneous.  Specifically, the plaintiffs argued that the club’s knowledge of criminal activity in the neighborhood, over-promotion, allowance of overcrowding, and lack of security created a dangerous condition that caused the victims’ deaths.  The appeals court, however, found that the defendants were not the proximate cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries.  The court reasoned that the victim’s firing of his gun constituted an intervening act that broke the causal link between the club’s actions and the plaintiffs’ injuries.  Unable to establish the element of causation, the plaintiffs therefore could not recover on their negligence claims against the nightclub and parking lot owner.

Victims of negligence often have recourse against the person or business responsible for their injuries.  The Maryland injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. handle a range of personal injury and medical malpractice cases, including wrongful death lawsuits and automobile accident cases.  Schedule a consultation with one of our dedicated attorneys by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting us online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Plaintiffs May Bring Wrongful Death Action Despite Successful Personal Injury Claim of Decedent, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 15, 2016

Maryland Court Allows Plaintiff to Bring Wrongful Death Suit Based on Same Conduct as Prior Personal Injury Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 21, 2015