Family of Royal Palm Beach shooting death victims sues Publix

The surviving family members of a grandmother and child who were shot at close range in a Royal Palm Beach Publix supermarket in June 2021 are suing the grocery chain, claiming it failed to “keep its reasonably safe store” and to protect customers from dangers of which Publix “should have been aware.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Palm Beach County Circuit Court by family members of grandmother, Litha G. Varone, 69, and the one-year-old boy, identified in the lawsuit as ” SV”.

The plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit are Daniel and Melissa Varone, parents of the toddler, as well as David Varone and Sandra Varone. Daniel, David and Sandra Varone, identified as the children of Litha Varone.

Grandma and toddler were at Publix at The Crossroads plaza at 1180 Royal Palm Beach Blvd. Late in the morning of June 10, when a 55-year-old man entered the store and pointed a gun at the boy as he sat in a shopping cart that looked like a toy truck, sheriff’s deputies said of Palm Beach County.

The shooter pulled the trigger, killing the boy with a single bullet. The grandmother fought back, but he knocked her down and also shot her. Then the man, identified as Timothy Wall, committed suicide.

Police said there was no evidence that Wall knew his victims. Investigators later said they found Wall had posted on Facebook that he wanted to kill people, including children.

Lawsuit accuses Publix of failing to take ‘reasonable steps necessary to protect against third-party crime’ following what it called a 35% increase in firearm homicides on business premises in 2020.

Twelve major U.S. food retailers experienced 448 firearm-related incidents, including 137 deaths from Jan. 1, 2020, to May 14, 2022, the suit says.

Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, had the most incidents – 310 – and the most deaths – 89, according to the lawsuit.

Sixteen of the incidents and five deaths occurred at Publix, according to the lawsuit.

“Publix knew, or should have known, that violence, including gun violence at The Crossroads Publix, posed a potential risk to its customers and employees,” the lawsuit states.

The prosecution told what it called “a long history of crime” in the area around the Royal Palm Beach Publix store, listing 40 cases reported to police between 2018 and 2020 in or near the mall.

Most of the index offenses were non-violent crimes, including drug possession, trespassing, vandalism, burglary, retail and robbery, vehicle theft, bicycle theft, and vagrancy. The only violent crimes listed in the suit were “regular nuisance” that threatened to kill two sheriff’s deputies, a robbery and an attempted child abduction with a firearm in the plaza.

Publix’s failure to develop a “robust safety plan to protect shoppers and workers is evident,” the lawsuit states.

“Failure to do so, in light of the specific incidents, juxtaposed with the larger picture of gun violence in commercial establishments, has made the tragedy that is the subject of this lawsuit a ‘when it happens’ event. “and not a ‘if it would happen’. happen event,” the suit says.

Publix’s alleged failures include the lack of gun detectors and uniformed security guards in the store, and the lack of security camera monitoring inside and outside the store.

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When Wall walked back into the store after buying something earlier, “he was still wearing black clothes, he was wearing a mask again, he was carrying a golf club and had a gym bag slung over his shoulder.”

Still, “nobody paid attention,” the suit says.

A History of the Daily Business Review published on Wednesday quoted a statement from the family: “Publix ignored all red flags that endangered the safety of their customers. They ignored the need to invest in security and that choice cost us everything.

The lawsuit, brought by Sean C. Domnick and Gregory Yaffa of West Palm Beach-based Domnick Cunningham & Whalen, seeks damages of more than $30,000 for alleged violations of Florida’s wrongful death law .

Yaffa and Domnick filed the lawsuit as representatives of the toddler’s estate. Lake Worth-based attorney Jams G. Graver is listed in the complaint as representing Litha Varone’s estate.

A Publix spokeswoman declined to comment on the allegations on Wednesday, saying only “it would be inappropriate for us to comment on ongoing litigation.”

Ron Hurtibise covers business and consumer issues for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He can be reached by phone at 954-356-4071, on Twitter @ronhurtibise or by email at [email protected].

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