Martez Smith v. Champion Lanes, LLC, Hattiesburg Liquid Entertainment, LLC, and North Pointe Insurance Company
In the Circuit Court of Forrest County, Mississippi; Civil Action No. CI11-0065
On November 14, 2010, Martez Smith, a senior at the University of Southern Mississippi, located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, had the world within his reach: he was about to graduate, and as a football player for the Golden Eagles, he was being scouted the NFL. After the Eagles’ 31-21 win against Central Florida earlier that night, Martez and a group of his teammates went to the Remington Hunt Club to celebrate- but what should have been a party quickly turned into a nightmare when an altercation in the parking lot ended when the aggressor resorted to gunfire. Three team members were shot- one of whom being Martez, who was shot three times, resulting in catastrophic injuries that left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down… ending his dreams of a football career, but thankfully, not his life.
The Remington Hunt Club had become a notorious haven for criminal activity long before Martez was shot. After taking on the case, I asked the Hattiesburg Police Department to produce the reports of all calls made regarding the Club- they showed that the police was called to the Club 160 times since its’ opening in January 2008, for issues ranging from criminal activity to underage drinking- and other shooting incidents. In fact, there were several shooting incidents in the parking lot in the weeks prior to Martez being shot. The ownership did little to protect its customers- they hired their own security, but it was determined through depositions that the owner was not only unaware of any training provided to the guards, he admitted that the Club did not have any standard rules and regulations for security guards to follow, nor were background checks run on prospective employees
This fact became very important given that several of the “guards” on duty the night of Martez’ shooting belonged to the Gangster Disciples, a nationally known criminal gang. The Detective on duty that night testified in his deposition that the Club was largely known as a gang hang out, and the gang, in fact more or less “ran things” at the Club. Ultimately, it came down to the fact that Martez’ shooter was identified as a Gangster Disciple, and the security guards at the Club failed to intervene and/or protect Martez from harm as they, also, were members of the same gang- and were acting to protect their fellow gang members, not the patrons of the Club they were hired to protect.
Martez’ path to justice was littered with numerous obstacles. First, the corporation and individual who owned the Club filed for bankruptcy, meaning that we had to obtain the permission of the bankruptcy court to pursue the case against the Club in the first place, delaying matters for months until the matter could be heard. Security experts were necessary to provide their opinion as to the status of the environment at the Club- in a strange twist of fate, I was able to get the Club’s expert to change his opinion, and actually admit that it had failed to adequately train and supervise its employees, failed to screen prospective employees, and that Martez’ shooting was foreseeable based upon the extensive past criminal history of the Club. Medical experts, vocational experts and an economist had to be retained to render their opinions for both the prosecution and the defense, which took quite a while; our experts agreed that Martez’ economic damages were in excess of $4 million. There was no way we were going to have Martez take less than what he deserved, and ultimately we were forced to sue the Club’s insurance carrier in order to obtain Martez his full compensation. In yet another delay tactic, the defense filed a last-minute motion to continue the impending trial, to which we objected and the trial judge denied. Finally, in early October of this year- just shy of three years after the incident- we were able to reach a settlement (the terms of which are confidential) and finally provide Martez with the justice he so richly deserved.
While not necessarily the happy ending most would desire in such a case, the resolution of this matter has allowed Martez the closure he needed to move forward with his life. Determined not to allow this injury to be definitive of his future, Martez did graduate from USM with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, with a concentration in business, sports management and coaching, and has plans to open his own trucking business and follow in his father’s footsteps. We wish him the best of luck and greatest success in all of his endeavors.