The apartment complex had gates that were rarely used. Residents said they were broken and never closed, and certainly not the night that a person drove in and started shooting. Managers created an apathetic, unconcerned culture in their employees. Loitering at late hours? Fine. Outdoor lights go out? Leave them.
A neighbor walked around the property showing places where work crews plastered over bullet holes. He remembered one hit the staircase wall leading up to his front door. He recalled reporting the shooting to management, but management refused to add more security to the complex.
Then the night of the shooting came. Like most nights, the gates were open. Jane and her friends were sitting in a car, talking and being normal teenage girls. Then a car whipped in, and someone inside started shooting. Jane died from her gunshot wounds 20 days later. She was 14 years old.
Within a year, her family had moved back home to the Midwest. When the apartment complex refused to let them break the lease, that was the last straw. Jane’s mother, Ann, hired a local attorney.
“Two attorneys brought us on to work with them. They knew the family deserved far more than a couple hundred thousand dollars. But going up against an apartment complex backed by a national real estate developer is daunting for any attorney,” Alan Holcomb said. Holcomb, a partner at Turnbull, Holcomb, & LeMoine, PC used to work on the other side, representing some of the largest insurance companies nationwide.
Initially, the defendants’ attorneys argued that the complex was not on notice of prior crime and that its security was more than adequate for the amount of crime at the property. “We started digging into police records and tracked down the neighbors who had moved away, so we could hear their stories as well,” Holcomb said. “I was astounded by what we learned.”
After hundreds of hours of research and interviews, the plaintiffs had a watertight case. More than 1,600 crimes were reported within a mile of the apartment complex in the last three years. The opposing counsel received a document totaling more than 300 pages of police calls. But the plaintiff’s attorneys didn’t stop at official police records. They also asked for evidence of crimes reported to the apartment complex management, but not to police.
A 12-minute video produced by one of the best video production companies nationwide showed just how devastating this story would play out in front of a jury. At the end, Jane’s mother is holding a teddy bear with three patches of red plaid stitched in: over one eye, on an arm near the elbow, and in the chest. The plaid show where the person shot and killed her daughter.
“I can hold it,” Ann said. “And if I can hold this bear, I can talk to the bear, I can kiss the bear. It physically makes me feel like she’s with me.” Could every attorney say they would have gotten to know their clients well enough to know about that teddy bear?
“I truly appreciate the way Alan and his assistant Nikki handled my case,” Ann said after the case was settled. “My case was very sensitive and emotional, but they never let my emotions turn them off. They handled me gently, with patience, but very firmly on the business side. I’d definitely be calling him first if something else happens in my life.”
The two sides wound up settling for $4 million.