On Wednesday, November 20, 2013, a jury of twelve in Cobb County, Georgia rendered a $35,000,000 verdict against the amusement park, Six Flags, and four of its employees for the 2007 beating and traumatic brain injury that a customer suffered after spending the day at the park. Michael Neff, Gilbert Deitch, and Andrew Rogers were lead counsel for the Plaintiff, and Susan Cremer, Dwayne Adams, and Shane Peagler from MLN Law were also counsel of record in the case.
After hearing the testimony of 34 witnesses over five days, the jury found that Six Flags was 92% at fault. The jury also found four Six Flags employees each 2% at fault. The employees had already pled or been found guilty of violating Georgia’s Gang Act and aggravated assault.
Attorney Andy Rogers explained, “the jury understood the evidence that Six Flags tolerated its employees being in gangs and ignored the culture of violence on its property. Had Six Flags addressed these issues and provided reasonable security, Josh’s beating would not have happened.”
During the seven days of trial, the jury heard evidence that Six Flags had knowledge of gang violence on its property and knowledge of numerous instances of employees attacking each customers, each other, and Six Flags’ security. The jury also heard evidence of gang activity at Six Flags, including Crips, Bloods, and local gangs like YGL (“Young Gangster Living”). The jury also saw numerous photos from Six Flags’ employee locker room that had numerous gang tags, signs that Six Flags admitted were the gangs’ way of saying “we are here.”
Police officer, Eddie Herman, testified to numerous “hot spots” for crime and violent activity, one of which was a bus stop on Six Flags Parkway where a drive-by shooting occurred in 2006. The officer also recommended that Six Flags have 24/7 police on duty at the park because of the park’s location and the prior incidents of violence there.
Six Flags defended the lawsuit arguing that the particular area where the beating occurred was just beyond Six Flags’ property line.
However, the jury heard substantial evidence of Six Flags’ control over the property around the bus stop, including placing uniformed officers there to direct traffic, having security drive by, and placing barricades and signs just feet from where Josh was beaten. Six Flags admitted that there are no other businesses around, and the bus stops primarily carried Six Flags’ employees and customers. The company also admitted to daily landscaping and trash clean-up in that area.
Attorney Gilbert Deitch, commented that “Georgia law requires that a company like Six Flags keep its premises and approaches safe. In this case, Six Flags had taken control over ‘Six Flags Parkway,’ a county road that was the only way for people to enter or exit Six Flags. It placed signs and exercised control over property Six Flags purported not to own. Under the unique facts of this case – with the prior drive-by shooting, the gang activity, and other violence at or near the bus stop – the jury correctly found that Six Flags had a duty to keep the only approach to its property safe.”
On July 3, 2007, Josh Martin had no idea about the security issues at the park. “Six Flags chose not to warn customers about the danger,” Deitch added. Josh went to Six Flags with two friends to celebrate his friend getting into college. After spending a day at the park, Josh and his friends missed the bus at the bus stop just over Six Flags’ property line. Josh and his friends sat on a guardrail on Six Flags’ property where customers and employees often sat while waiting for rides.
Unfortunately, Josh and his friends did not know of an altercation that included four Six Flags employees just minutes before inside the park. The employees, several wearing “YGL” colors and shirts, threatened a family that they would “get them in the parking lot” after an incident near one of the rides. The incident was reported to Six Flags’ security. However, Six Flags did not have the recommended off-duty police that night. Six Flags security did minimal investigation and did not follow their policy manual in expelling the large group of gang members.
Shortly thereafter, when the gang failed to attack the family in the park, they randomly selected Josh and his friends, who had again walked to the bus stop. Josh’s two friends were able to get away with lesser injuries, but several Six Flags employees rushed Josh and hit him with brass knuckles – a weapon one employee brought to the park because he feared for his own safety.
The group of employee gang-members hit and stomped Josh until he slipped into a coma. Josh spent one week in a coma and has severe brain damage. “The brain injury in this case was clearly severe. Josh was in a coma for seven days. His life care plan showed a need for at least $7 million to assist Josh to live in the structured environment he needs,” explained attorney Susan Cremer. “Six Flags chose not to present any experts or other witnesses to refute the diagnosis of brain damage, Josh’s life care plan, or his lost earning capacity,” Cremer added.
Attorney Michael Neff explained, “the highlight of the trial for me was talking with the jurors after the verdict. A number of them waited around to talk with our team – which included Gilbert Deitch, Andrew Rogers, myself, Susan Cremer, Dwayne Adams, and Shane Peagler. From what they told us, they really understood the severity of Josh’s brain damage. They understood Six Flags’ disregard for the safety of its employees and customers. They also appreciated the respect that Judge Tanksley showed for the witnesses, the jury, and for the process as a whole in such a complex case. The jurors were proud to have performed their civic duty.”