A Barry County man shot with his own gun by an assailant in a hospital parking area won a seven-figure award from the medical center he alleged had failed to protect him.
“In essence, it was negligent security,” said Joe Winget of Placzek, Winget & Placzek, an attorney for plaintiff Steven Harner. “We claim that Mercy was liable because they failed to provide the appropriate security to my client.”
Jurors found $2 million in damages but awarded just 75 percent of the fault to defendant Mercy Hospital Joplin, resulting in a $1.5 million verdict for Harner.
According to the lawsuit, Harner, who was at the facility in 2015 to visit a family member, returned to his vehicle to find a stranger, Kaylea Liska, inside of it. Liska ultimately shot Harner in the neck with a Ruger handgun that had been in the glove compartment of the car and fled the scene.
The suit said that she was later apprehended by police and sentenced to 20 years for the shooting.
Harner had emergency surgery to repair his carotid artery and spent 12 days in the hospital. He suffered a fractured vertebra and lasting nerve damage. He still has weakness in the upper extremity of his right side, and the left side of his body is cold.
The suit alleged that the hospital bore responsibility for the incident because Liska, who earlier had arrived at the hospital in an ambulance transporting her boyfriend, had been wandering the parking lot for a significant period before her interaction with Harner. She asked one man for a ride and then entered a different vehicle from which she stole medications before being confronted by its owners, who went back inside to notify hospital security.
More than 40 minutes before the shooting, a Mercy employee informed the security dispatcher that vehicles were being robbed in the lot. The suit alleges that a security officer asked the dispatcher to review video footage for suspicious activity, but this evidently was not done nor were other precautions taken during the intervening period.
“At minimum, you could have offered an escort to our client, or you could have warned him before he went into the emergency room parking lot that we have a person who is getting into cars,” Winget said. “That was what we claimed. Mercy had an obligation to do these things and their policies and procedures require that they investigate and take certain actions and they didn’t do any of that.”
Winget said that the hospital argued comparative fault in the matter, as neither the glove box containing Harner’s gun nor the car itself had working locks.
“They argued that once he saw somebody in his car, knowing that he had a loaded gun in his car, he should have retreated,” he said.
According to Winget, the defense also contended that Mercy was in a safe area with little crime and introduced testimony from a security expert who said it would have been difficult for the dispatcher to locate the assailant before the shooting.
He said that a security assessment two months before the incident had given the hospital good reviews although it did indicate that security staffing was low.
Rodney E. Loomer, Jeffrey T. Davis and Jeffrey D. Upp of Turner, Reid, Duncan, Loomer & Patton represented the hospital. They did not return a request for comment.
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$2 million verdict
Allocation of Fault: 75 percent to defendant, 25 percent to plaintiff. Net judgment of $1,500,000
Venue: Newton County Circuit Court
Case Number/Date: 17NW-CV01622/July 23, 2021
Judge: John R. LePage
Special Damages: Past medical: $201,000 billed. $148,000 paid. No future medical. Plaintiff went back to work approximately 3 weeks after the shooting. No lost earnings were claimed at trial.
Last Pretrial Demand: Bracket at mediation of $1,100,000/$100,000
Last Pretrial Offer: Bracket at mediation of $150,000/$50,000
Caption: Steven Harner v. Mercy Hospital Joplin
Plaintiff’s Experts: J. Charles Mace, Springfield (neurosurgery); Charles Y. Ro, Joplin (trauma surgery)
Defendant’s Experts: Thomas A. Smith, Chapel Hill, North Carolina (certified protection professional)
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Joseph Winget, Jenifer Placzek and Paul Jameson, Placzek, Winget & Placzek, Springfield
Defendant’s Attorneys: Rodney Loomer, Jeffrey Davis and Jeffrey Upp, Turner, Reid, Duncan, Loomer & Patton, Springfield