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$16.4 Million in Wrongful Death Case

February 14, 1993
Home Firm News $16.4 Million in Wrongful Death Case

The plaintiffs brought action for pain and suffering endured by the victims of an execution-style murder at an apartment building in the Bronx, N.Y.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 14, 1993, armed third-party-defendant perpetrators John Doe #4, John Doe #5, John Doe #6, John Doe #7 and John Doe #8 entered 645 Prospect Avenue, an apartment building in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. The building was owned and managed by defendants Company #1 Inc. and Company #2.

Testimony indicated that the perpetrators’ intent was to enter apartment 612 and kill plaintiff’s decedent John Doe #3, 18, who had incurred the wrath of John Doe #8. Two of the perpetrators admitted that they gained entrance to the building through an unlocked front door.

Upon entering the lobby, three of the perpetrators took four hostages, one of whom was plaintiff’s decedent Jane Doe #3, 25, who was John Doe #3’s sister. Testimony indicated that the perpetrators intended to take Doe to her family’s apartment so that she could open the door to let the perpetrators enter. They planned to search the apartment for money, and then kill John Doe #3. The other three hostages were plaintiff’s decedent Jane Doe #6, 17, plaintiff’s decedent John Doe #1, 14, and another decedent who never brought suit.

After the three perpetrators took the hostages to apartment 612, the remaining two criminals entered the building and also went up to the apartment. The perpetrators stole $300 and a gun, but overlooked another $7,000 that was hidden in the apartment.

Testimony indicated that John Doe #8 then shot John Doe #3 and each of the hostages in the head. Also killed was Jane Doe #4 — John Doe #3’s mother — who was in the apartment at the time of the attack.

The plaintiffs claimed that the building landlord was negligent in failing to provide a working lock on the building’s front door, and that the security was inadequate, based on evidence that the guard who was scheduled for duty on the day of the murders did not report to work.

The plaintiffs called numerous current and former building residents who all admitted that the front door, though equipped with a lock, did not lock securely. The former security guard admitted at trial, under subpoena by the plaintiffs, that the lock was weak and that he saw various residents of the building ‘pop’ open the locked door without using a key. Company #1 and Company #2 argued that the door lock was working properly, and contended that they had no duty to provide a security guard.

They argued that even if the guard had been on duty, he would not have been able to stop the heavily armed perpetrators and might have been injured himself. One of the perpetrators, however, testified that if the guard had been in the lobby, they would not have entered the building.

The defendants were denied a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that the crimes were unforeseeable and unstoppable. The denial was affirmed by the Appellate Division, First Department. (See, Jane Doe #1, et al. v. Company #1, et al., 297 A.D.2d 583, 747 N.Y.S.2d 175 (A.D. 1 Dept. 2002). Each perpetrator was subsequently apprehended and either pled guilty or was convicted after trial.

They are all currently incarcerated. This case received much publicity at the time of the murders, and became known as the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.”

The lawyers on the case were Denise M. Dunleavy, Thomas J. Nolan and Howard G. Frederick. The victims’ families were awarded $16.4 million.

Jane Doe #1, as administratrix of the estate of John Doe #1; Jane Doe #2, as administratrix of the estate of Jane Doe #3 and Jane Doe #4; John Doe #2, as administratrix of the estate of John Doe #3; and Jane Doe #5, as administratrix of the estate of Jane Doe #6 v. Company #1 and Company #2, a limited partnership v. John Doe #4, John Doe #5, John Doe #6, John Doe #7, and John Doe #8 no. 23366/93.

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