The article, "Jury Awards $3M to Man Beaten by Family Dollar Store Cashier," originally appeared in the Daily Report on October 26, 2016.

 

A Fulton County jury awarded more than $3 million to a man who was beaten into unconsciousness by a Family Dollar cashier who wrongly suspected him of shoplifting.

The verdict includes $215,000 in attorney fees and more than $2.3 million in punitive damages against Family Dollar and its former employee, who was fired following the incident.

Lead plaintiffs attorney Thomas "Woody" Sampson II said Family Dollar's share of the punitive damages is "arguably" capped at $250,000 under Georgia law.

"There's going to be some arguing about that," said Sampson, who tried the case with Thomas Kennedy Sampson & Tompkins associate LaTisha Jackson and Atlanta solo Amber Saunders.

The lawyers for Family Dollar, Goodman McGuffey partners Judy Aust and Joshua Stein, referred queries to the chain's public relations department, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ex-cashier Jeremy Turner is represented by Swift Currie McGhee & Hiers partner Marc Barre and associate Drew Timmons. Barre said he had not had a chance to discuss the verdict with his client and that no decision had been made regarding a potential appeal.

The case began May 2014, when Larry Gunn was shopping at a Family Dollar in College Park and was accosted by Turner, who pulled him to the front of the store and demanded that he empty his pockets, which he did.

According to Gunn's version of events, Turner began shouting that he'd better "give up the merchandise," and tried to block Gunn's exit.

Gunn "slipped by" and made it outside, but Turner followed him out, knocked him to the ground and stomped his face and head until he lost consciousness. Turner then "spit on him as he lay on the sidewalk covered in blood."

Gunn, now 42, was taken by ambulance to an emergency room; Turner was arrested and charged with aggravated battery, a felony, and is due to be arraigned in September, Sampson said.

Turner's portion of the pretrial order said that Gunn was drunk and refused to cooperate when he was asked to "remove hidden merchandise from his clothing," and made "threatening" comments and motions toward Turner.

Gunn also spit in Turner's face, his filings said, and he used "only the force necessary to protect and defend himself."
Sampson said Gunn's blood alcohol content when measured at the hospital was .01.

Family Dollar's account said Turner had violated store policy by approaching a suspected shoplifter, touching him and following him from the store, and that he had been "promptly terminated."

Sampson said Gunn suffered a broken nose and multiple facial lacerations. A few months after the attack, Sampson said, he began complaining of recurring headaches.
Gunn sued in Fulton County State Court last year, asserting claims for assault and battery, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Turner, and for vicarious liability, negligent hiring and retention and negligent security against Family Dollar. Punitive damage claims were aimed at both defendants.

Sampson said the highest the defense ever offered to settle the case before trial was $125,000, while he had maintained that the case was worth "something close to seven figures."

In May, Gunn's lawyers filed a motion for spoliation sanctions against Family Dollar over its failure to preserve and turn over videotapes of the incident.

Judge Eric Richardson declined to strike Family Dollar's answer, and the case went to trial on Aug. 15.

Sampson said testimony showed that the store manager had instructed male cashiers to be aggressive about confronting shoplifters, and that Turner—who had a history of getting physical with customers—was held out as a role model for other employees, who were told to "be like Jeremy" because "Jeremy don't play."

Turner did not attend the trial, Sampson said.

The trial lasted a week, and the jury deliberated for two days before awarding $600,000 in damages—which will be reduced to $450,000 because he was deemed 25 percent responsible for the incident—and $214,992 in attorney fees.

Following a separate hearing for punitive damages, the jury awarded $2,375,000 and found that Turner had acted with specific intent to cause harm.

Georgia law caps punitive damages at $250,000 for any tort-feasor not found to have acted with the intent to harm, and Sampson said Family Dollar has argued that the cap applies to it.

 

Thomas G. Sampson, II ("Woody") is a partner with Thomas Kennedy Sampson & Tompkins, Georgia’s oldest minority-owned law firm. A trial lawyer, Mr. Sampson regularly represents Fortune 500 companies, individuals and governmental entities in various types of complex legal matters. He has worked as a plaintiff’s attorney trying multi-million dollar personal injury cases, as well as a defense attorney. Mr. Sampson has a wide variety of experience, having been involved in trying more than 100 cases. He has handled matters involving Civil Rights/Section 1983 Litigation, Consumer Warranty, Insurance Defense, Legal & Medical Malpractice, Negligent Security, Personal Injury, Premises Liability, Product Liability, Trucking Litigation and Wrongful Death. In addition to his trial experience, he has served as General Counsel to the Fulton County Board of Ethics for almost twenty (20) years, advising the Board on numerous complaints that have come before them concerning ethical violations of Fulton County elected officials and employees of Fulton County. During that time, he has authored all of the requests for advisory opinions from individuals who sought to determine whether their prospective conduct constituted an ethical violation. In addition, Woody has represented and advised elected officials on issues concerning election law violations and other ethical issues concerning elections. Mr. Sampson is a charter Fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America.