SEATTLE Two victims of a 2007 shooting in a Seattle-area Denny’s on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the 1,500-unit family-dining chain’s parent company, charging management with failing to adopt security measures that would have protected the diners after a fight broke out.
According to the complaint filed in King County Superior Court, plaintiffs Steven Tolenoa and Lisa Beltran-Walker were dining at separate tables in the Kent, Wash., Denny’s on Jan. 21, 2007, around 2 a.m. when a fight broke out among other patrons. One of the men involved in the fight left the restaurant for a short time and returned with a gun, shooting randomly into the crowd.
Abullet hit Tolenoa’s spinal chord, leaving him without use of his arms and legs. Beltran-Walker was shot in the leg. Three other patrons were also wounded, although they are not involved in the lawsuit. The shooter, Frank Lee Evans, was arrested and is in jail.
Beltran-Walker’s husband, Carl James Walker, is also a named plaintiff in the lawsuit, although he wasn’t shot.
Attorneys representing the plaintiffs argue that the restaurant, which is open 24-hours and has a bar, had a history of security problems during late-night hours, with 154 incidents requiring police intervention over the past four years.
According to the complaint, no guard was on duty at the time, and restaurant patrons, employees and neighbors had complained previously about the lack of security at the restaurant.
Ron Perey, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said employees at the restaurant had signed a petition asking the Spartanburg, S.C., parent company to allow the restaurant to close between midnight and 5 a.m., or to provide a security guard, because of problems there. The plaintiffs contend that management was aware of the “dangerous conditions” but took no action.
“The situation that night was clearly out of control,” said Doug Weinmaster, another attorney for the plaintiffs. “We believe the restaurant had an obligation to provide a safe environment for its patrons, and certainly had a responsibility to act once the first fight broke out.”
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages for the physical, emotional and economic damage incurred, including medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering.
Denny’s officials confirmed that the restaurant where the shooting occurred was franchisee owned but declined to comment on pending litigation.
Also named as defendents in the case is J&D Restaurants Inc., the franchise operator, as well as Linda Hoffert, the restaurant’s district manager at the time.