Attorneys for a Prince George's County shopping mall agreed yesterday in an out-of-court settlement to pay $235,000 to a Capitol Heights woman who charged that an assault she suffered at the mall in 1980 was partly due to lax security.
Vera Lamar, 52, was beaten and robbed by two men shortly after arriving at work one morning at Osterman and Osterman Opticians, which at the time operated at Iverson Mall in Hillcrest Heights. Lamar's attorney, Terrence J. McGann, said his client has lost the use of her left arm as a result of the beating and has been unable to work since.
McGann said that his client originally sued Iverson management for $500,000 and later increased the claim to $2 million, saying that there was only one guard on duty in the two-story mall at the time she was assaulted.
A full trial on the merit of Lamar's case held in Prince George's County Circuit Court earlier this year ended in a mistrial. Another trial date had been scheduled for next year, McGann said, but his client agreed to settle because "there's no such thing as a sure thing in front of a jury."
Brian Nash, the Silver Spring attorney who represented the mall's insurance carrier, said yesterday that his client's willingness to settle did not mean that the company that managed Iverson Mall at the time was willing to accept liability for Lamar's injuries. "The jury couldn't make up its mind as to whether the mall was at fault," Nash said of the earlier mistrial. "You settle some cases because it makes better economic sense."
Circuit Court Judge Jacob S. Levin, who heard Lamar's case, said it was unusual. "This is the first one that really has gone to trial around here on the liability of the landlord for the acts of criminals on his property," he said. "You don't see that too frequently. Usually it gets settled in the middle of the trial."
Levin said that such suits are filed frequently but have never been tested at an appellate court level.
The men who assaulted Lamar escaped with less than $50 in petty cash from the store and $8 to $10 in cash from Lamar's purse. One of them, an escapee from D.C. Jail, was later convicted on assault and robbery charges in the case, according to McGann.