A U.S. District Court jury awarded $533,000 in damages yesterday to a 22-year-old woman who sued the owners of a fast food restaurant after she was abducted from its parking lot and raped a few blocks away.
The incident took place about 11:15 p.m. on April 7, 1984, at Church's Fried Chicken, 4525 East Capitol St. SE at the corner of Benning Road.
Gerald E. Mitchell, attorney for the woman, a beautician, argued during the five-day trial that the restaurant had failed to exercise reasonable care for the safety of its customers.
Thomas A. Farrington, the attorney for the company, argued that the restaurant, which has mercury vapor lights outside, is one of the safest places in a high-crime area. In court papers the company also argued that it was not responsible for the attack. It said it has no duty to protect customers from assaults that it does not know are occurring and are committed by persons over whom it has no control.
The restaurant is owned by MSM Enterprises Inc., of Dallas, which operates about two dozen Church's Fried Chicken establishments in the Washington area.
Farrington said there is a "good likelihood" that the verdict will be appealed. The jury of three women and three men deliberated for two hours before reaching a decision.
"There's an immense amount of emotion in a case like this," Farrington said.
According to testimony at the trial before U.S. District Judge Barrington D. Parker, the attack took place just two hours after the store itself had been robbed.
The woman testified that she had bought chicken in the restaurant and then was backing out of a parking space when her car hit a concrete block that had been used as a light stand. When she got out of the car to check for damage, she said she was approached by two men who had been loitering nearby. After a struggle, she said one fired a gunshot and the men forced their way into her car and drove her several blocks away where they raped her.
The men later were convicted of kidnaping and armed rape in connection with the incident.
According to police records, the silent alarm by the store's cash register was activated at about the time the attack occurred in the parking lot. Police in squad cars arrived about two minutes later but were told that the alarm had been set off by mistake.
The woman testified that the struggle took place near the store window in full view of the restaurant manager. But David Allen, the assistant manager on duty, testified that he did not see the attack and had not activated the alarm.