Two teenagers were killed in a shooting at Newcomb Hall in Riviera Beach, Florida late Saturday night. One teen died on scene while another died at a local hospital. Six other people were also shot, but are said to have sustained non-life threatening injuries. It is also being reported that the shooting happened during a “Sweet 16” party that had more than 100 guests.
For those who do not know, Newcomb Hall is a party/event venue located at the Riviera Beach Marina and is owned and operated by the City of Riviera Beach. The rental application, which must be submitted in advance of any event, can be accessed here: Newcomb Hall Rental Application.pdf.
As a Florida injury attorney, I can tell you that a terrible case like this one presents a number of important legal issues that will impact a lot of people. Most importantly, the families of those who were killed and the people who survived the shooting, may have a cause of action against the City of Riviera Beach, the people who hosted the party, the security company (if one was even present), and of course the shooters themselves.
First and foremost, before I delve into my thoughts about this awful case, I must stress that this matter is still under investigation, therefore, no concrete or ultimate conclusions can be drawn. Much more information is needed before this case can be completely and properly analyzed.
That said, I suspect that the City of Riviera Beach, the hosts of the party, and the security company (again, if one was even used) may be liable for the deaths and injuries caused.
As such, the victims and their surviving families may be entitled to compensation for their losses.
As a premise, whenever a person hosts a party, especially one with over 100 guests, he/she has a duty to maintain a safe environment. Not only does the party host have a duty to ensure a safe environment, but so does the property owner. This is especially so when the property owner either foresaw or should have foresaw the need for security at a party like this one.
In law, this is referred to as premises liability.
Described simply, premises liability is created when a person fails to maintain a safe environment on his/her property and people get hurt as a result. This duty applies to property owners and property renters just the same.
In this particular case, premises liability may exist due to a lack of adequate security. In other words, if a cause of action can be had, it will likely be because the party hosts, the security company (if present), and the City of Riviera Beach failed to provide adequate security at the party.
As I mentioned above, this case is still under investigation. Before any concrete conclusions about liability can be drawn, a number of very important questions must be asked. For instance, I am wondering about the following:
- Did the party hosts or the city provide any security at all?
- If so, was the security adequate given the nature and size of the party?
- Did the party hosts or the City call for additional security as things got out of hand?
- Did the City enforce the rules relating to the rental of Newcomb Hall?
- Does the City maintain insurance for accidents and injuries that happen at Newcomb Hall?
- Did the City require party hosts to obtain their own insurance for liability?
- What prompted the shooting?
- Did any of the victims get shot by someone who acted in their own legitimate self-defense against the victim?
- Was anyone injured when the mass of people rapidly fled the scene? In other words, is Newcomb Hall designed and maintained to allow for rapid evacuation in the event of an emergency?
The list of questions can go on and on. Ultimately, we need to know what happened, who was shot, why they were shot, and all the details that surround the shooting.
Having had a chance to read the Newcomb Hall rental application (which can be downloaded at the beginning of this article), I have a number of specific concerns.
First of all, how was a “Sweet 16” party allowed to take place when the application specifically states “ABSOLUTELY NO TEEN EVENTS (UNDER 21) WILL BE HELD AT NEWCOMB HALL”?
Did the party hosts lie on their application? Did they ignore that provision? OR, did the City overlook that part? What steps did the City take to ensure that its own rules were followed? Did they question the party hosts about the nature of the party and the ages of the guests?
Did the City send a representative on the night of the party to check up on things and make sure that the party was in fact a permitted one? Zoning inspectors do this all the time at restaurants and privately owned properties throughout the city. In this case, did the City bother to police its own property?
Where was the fire inspector? Where were the zoning people? Why didn’t City police make a stop to check on things, knowing that a big party was taking place?
Where were the police? Don’t they regularly patrol the marina? If not, I bet there are a lot of thieves and drug traffickers that would love to know that tid-bit of information…
I think you get the point.
If the City took even the smallest steps to enforce its own rules, this party could have been shut down before anyone was killed.
Another point: I also happened to notice that the rental application states that an event is subject to cancellation unless a party host brings a copy of the receipt from their security detail to the marina office the day before the event.
Either the party goers provided this receipt or they didn’t. Either the receipt indicated that adequate security, specific to the type of event, was purchased or it wasn’t.
If no receipt was presented, why wasn’t the party cancelled by the City? If a receipt was presented, what steps did the City take to ensure that the security detail was adequate?
If I were a gambling man, I would bet no receipt was ever presented. I bet the marina is a mismanaged place, typical of government, where a stupid form was presented, a fee was paid, and the keys to the house were forked over.
This case is tragic. Whether the rules for renting at Newcomb Hall were followed or not is ultimately irrelevant to me. I worry that the City did not do everything it should have to make sure those kids were in a safe environment.
The City was on notice that a party was going on.
The smallest amount of diligence would have alerted them to the presence of an impermissible teen event.
In fact, a single patrolman on routine patrol in a place that should be patrolled routinely (the marina), could have probably prevented this massacre by simply noticing that it was an impermissible teen event.
Legal issues aside, lawsuits aside, money and attorneys aside, if I was a resident of Riviera Beach I would be angry and I would be demanding answers.
However, when it comes to ultimate legal responsibility, as I said before, we really do need to know the details of what happened. The City may in fact have done everything the law requires of it.
For instance, the party hosts may have completely lied on their application. Maybe they did present a receipt that indicated that adequate security was purchased. Maybe they later cancelled that security or reduced it to save money.
In the alternative, the security company may have breached their agreement with the party hosts by failing to provide the security detail which was purchased. For example, they may be held liable if the party hosts paid for 10 security guards but only 2 were provided.
If in fact there was security, did they check party guests for weapons? This is routine at many nightclubs and may have been appropriate at this teen event. What steps did the security detail take to manage the guests and ensure an on-going secure environment? Did they eject unruly or violent guests? Or, did they fail to act properly?
Were the security guards qualified to work a detail of this type? Were they licensed? Were they properly trained? Were they properly managed and supervised? Were they experienced at handling this type of event? What training did they have to deal with violent outbursts or mass casualty events?
Don’t you think a shooting at a teen event is now a foreseeable problem in modern America? How many more kids need to die before we learn this lesson?
We can deny this reality, but the truth is if it happens at schools and movie theaters, the risk is certainly greater at parties where you add the elements of alcohol and drug abuse. And if you think a bunch of teenagers at a Sweet 16 aren’t drinking and smoking pot, then you should probably take your head out of the sand.
At the end of the day this case is a mess all around. A massive investigation must be completed and then and only then can responsible parties be identified.
Once the dust settles, I hope all those who are negligent are in fact held accountable.
Teenagers should not be getting shot to death in Riviera Beach. Bottom line.