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September 19, 2014

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Court upholds $1M judgment against firm in Wal-Mart customer’s death

CARSON CITY –The Nevada Supreme Court ruled Monday a security firm must pay more than $1 million to the family of a man who died after an assault in the parking lot of a Las Vegas Wal-Mart store where it was providing patrol services.

The court denied the motion of Wackenhut of Nevada for a new trial, based in part on a comment made by the opposing lawyer at the trial.

On the night of June 2, 2004, Michael Born purchased a headlight from the Wal-Mart at 201 N. Nellis Blvd. He was installing it in his car in the store’s parking lot when Raymond Alton Garrett, then 37, approached Born, struck him in the head and emptied his pockets. Born, 51, a retired Air Force major, died about two weeks after the attack.

Michael Smith, administrator of the estate of Born in behalf of the surviving family, sued both Wackenhut and Wal-Mart.

After a 13-day trial, a Clark County jury in February 2011 found Wackenhut liable for $1.03 million but ruled Wal-Mart was not negligent.

The Supreme Court found that Mont E. Tanner, attorney for the surviving family members, was guilty of misconduct in his statement while examining a witness. Tanner, according to the court, said at the trial, “Judge…I think there may be some coaching the witness while I am asking him questions.” District Judge Mark Denton ordered the jury to disregard the comment.

The court said Tanner’s statement “was an unfounded allegation that disparaged opposing counsel by implying that the testimony was being tainted by whoever allegedly coached the witness.”

Despite the misconduct finding, the court ruled Tanner’s statement did not merit a new trial.

Wackenhut, in its brief to the Supreme Court, said the company was only a small part of Wal-Mart’s security detail and it was hired to provide a single patrol vehicle as a visual deterrent to crime in the parking lot. Wackenhut’s patrol vehicle, it said, passed by the Born five times prior to the assault.

Garrett, who had a criminal record dating to 1996, was convicted and given a life sentence with the possibility of parole. He is incarcerated at the High Desert State Prison, Nevada Department of Corrections records show.

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