Posted on Dec 13, 2023

A jury just returned a verdict for $7.5 million to the family of a man who was shot and killed at a Gainesville, Florida car wash. The victim was 36-year-old Bobby Bernard Hopkins, and he left behind two surviving children.

The incident took place at the Swamp Car Wash on May 22, 2021. Soon after getting shot, around 12:45pm, Mr. Hopkins called 911 and reported that he’d been shot in the chest. His friend took him to UF Health Shands Hospital, where Mr. Hopkins tragically passed away.

The lawsuit filed in this matter alleged that Swamp Car Wash should’ve taken steps to implement more security measures, especially in light of prior violent incidents in the area. Namely, there was a fatal shooting at Swamp Car Wash back in January of 2021, months before Mr. Hopkins was killed.

A video was shown at trial that showed an altercation between the shooter and the victim. This could explain why the jury placed 75% of the blame for the victim’s death on Swamp Car Wash and 25% on the victim. However, there’s no way to be sure.

Ultimately, the jury awarded $3.75 million to each of Mr. Hopkins’ two children, both of which were minors. The jury determined that the case was far more valuable than the defense’s pre-trial offer of $250,000 to settle the case.

Shooter Sentenced to Life in Prison

In May of 2023, the shooter, Eugene Patrick, was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. At trial, Patrick testified that Hopkins was choking him in the moments before he shot Hopkins and that he feared for his life. However, the jury didn’t buy his testimony and found that Patrick failed to properly retreat from the altercation, and thus he couldn’t claim self-defense.

Interestingly, Patrick had accepted a plea deal for misdemeanor manslaughter, and under that deal, he would have received 15 years in prison. However, Patrick subsequently rejected the deal and demanded a trial. The state asked for the maximum of life in prison, arguing that the punishment should be for life since the victim lost his life.

Pursuing a Negligent Security Claim for a Violent Attack at a Car Wash

In the wake of a violent incident, such as the tragedy at Swamp Car Wash, victims and their families often grapple with not only their grief but also the issue of justice. While the criminal side of the law may punish the criminal, the civil side of the law is how a family can hold a negligent business accountable for creating a dangerous environment.

Understanding Negligent Security

Cases where someone gets violently attacked on a business property are often referred to a negligent security or inadequate security cases. Negligent security is just a legal term for a type of premises liability case against a landowner that fails to implement security measures to protect guests from harm. These cases often boil down to establishing that the property owner knew or should have known of the potential for danger and nonetheless failed to take precautions that were reasonably necessary to protect customers and patrons.

Identifying the Signs of Negligence

A big issue in these cases is foreseeability. In other words, we ask whether the violent attack was reasonably foreseeable in light of the location and crime in the area. If previous violent incidents, such as the January shooting at Swamp Car Wash, did not compel the owner to enhance security, this may constitute negligence under Florida law.

The Elements of a Negligent Security Claim

For a successful negligent security claim, the claimant will need to demonstrate the following:

  1. A duty of care was owed by the property owner.
  2. That duty was breached due to inadequate security.
  3. The breach directly caused your injuries.
  4. You sustained damages as a result.

In our experience, these cases often boil down to whether the property owner breached the duty of care, and this is often based on foreseeability. Their argument is often something along the lines of, “Well, we didn’t have any reason to know about the crime that took place, and so we didn’t’ do anything wrong.” However, as happened in this matter, crime data and prior incidents of violent crime can go a long way toward establishing that the property owner knew or should have known violent crime might occur on the property, and thus the property owner should have implemented more security measures to protect guests and patrons.

Collecting Evidence

Evidence is an important component in most cases. Thus, a big part of these cases involves gathering all available evidence, such as police reports, medical records, and witness statements. Surveillance footage, if available, can also be pivotal, as seen in the Swamp Car Wash case, where video evidence came into play.

Consulting with a Personal Injury Attorney

Families who have lost a loved one need someone by their side to help them get justice. That’s where a negligent security attorney comes into play. Our job is to handle your case while you deal with the things you already have on your plate.