SEATTLE -- A man who was left paralyzed after a shooting at a Denny's restaurant in Kent, Wash., in 2007 will receive $13 million from the chain despite being awarded more than $46 million by a King County jury on Monday.
Before the jury reached its decision, lawyers for Denny's and the three victims reached an agreement that no matter what sum jurors recommended, plaintiff Steve Tolenoa would receive a minimum of $5 million and a maximum of $13 million from the insurers of the restaurant chain, according to his attorney, Ron Perey.
Tolenoa, 31, filed suit against Denny's after he and four other customers were wounded when a man opened fire inside the restaurant on Jan. 21, 2007. Tolenoa, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service, was shot in the back and rendered quadriplegic.
Jurors, in finding in favor of the plaintiffs, awarded Tolenoa and two other wounded customers $46.4 million. But even before the jury returned, attorneys for both sides reached the agreement that guaranteed the plaintiffs would receive money regardless of the verdict. The restaurant chain agreed to pay Tolenoa $13 million.
In exchange, the insurance company for Denny's has promised not to appeal the jury finding. The money will be delivered to him within two weeks, said Perey.
"We felt the case went very good. We were confident about the case, but any case can be lost," Perey said on Tuesday. "Without any money from this, (Tolenoa) would be doomed to live in an institution the rest of his life."
Perey said that Tolenoa will use the money to buy a house where he can have 24-hour long-term care. Since he was hurt, Tolenoa has moved into an assisted living center, according to the lawsuit.
"They jury's message was loud and clear to Denny's: They have to do something to protect customers and employees. They can't just look the other way and hope that nobody gets hurt," Perey said.
Thomas R. Merrick, a Seattle lawyer representing the Spartanburg, S.C., restaurant chain, said "the jury found there was no problem with the policies and procedures that Denny's has to make the restaurant safe." He said the jurors believed the restaurant's managers on duty were negligent.
Merrick said that the restaurant chain and its insurance company reached the agreement with the plaintiffs because of the "big risk" of cases involving catastrophic injuries.
Lisa Beltran-Walker, who was shot in the knee, was awarded $35,000 in damages. Carl Walker was awarded $15,000 for his emotional distress.
The 2009 lawsuit was filed against the restaurant chain, Spokane, Wash.-based J&D Restaurant Inc. and Linda Hoffert, who at the time of the shooting was the district manager for the Kent Denny's. Since the shootings, that Denny's has been franchised and is now owned by J&D Restaurant Inc., Merrick said.
In their verdict, the jury found that Hoffert had not acted negligently. J&D was dismissed from the case because the company had no connection to the business when the shootings occurred.
According to court filings, a man named Frank Lee Evans got into a fight inside the restaurant that morning. After being beaten up, Evans walked outside and returned with a gun. Evans fired shots into the restaurant before fleeing.
There was no security inside the restaurant that night, court filings said.
Part of the lawsuit accused the defendants of negligence for failing to have a security officer on duty that morning. According to the suit, police were called to the restaurant 30 times between 2005 and 2008 for crimes that included assaults, drugs, harassment, car prowls and rape.
Evans has since been sentenced to more than 60 years prison for the shootings. He shot five people that night; Tolenoa suffered the worst injuries, Perey said.
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