The mother of a Miami man who died from being set on fire by several attackers Christmas night is demanding accountability from the gas station where she says her son was attacked.
Wednesday, five days after 44-year-old Darrell Brackett died from his burn injuries, his mother Bridgett Brackett and her Coral Gables lawyer held a press conference to draw attention to their negligence lawsuit against Urbeita Oil Inc. and two other gas-related entities.
The lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade circuit court last month, alleges Darrell Brackett’s death could have been prevented had U-Gas at 4700 NW 27th Ave. had proper security to ward off criminals, including by having a guard, sufficient lighting and an adequate number of surveillance cameras.
“I wish no other family has to go through what I’ve gone through,” Bridgett Brackett said, wiping her tears. “The gas company should be held accountable for what happened to my son.”
Ignacio M. Urbieta, general counsel for Urbeita Oil Inc., said allegations made by the law firm representing Brackett were untrue.
"This morning, lawyers held a press conference in an apparent effort to sway public opinion
outside of court," Urbieta said in a statement. "The Haggard Law Firm alleged unsubstantiated facts about the incident and made dishonest statements disparaging our personal ethics. We vehemently deny their version of events and will address their accusations at the appropriate time and place."
Urbieta added: "Most importantly, we would like to emphasize that safety is and always has been our priority."
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The night of the attack, Darrell Brackett had bought gas at U-Gas, when a group of men turned that fuel into a weapon against him and caused him to suffer burns across his body, his family said.
Brackett, hospitalized since the attack, died Friday.
Brackett’s lawyer, Todd Michaels, alleged Wednesday that the gas station endangered customers by allowing drug dealers to often remain on the property.
“The problem is that every good person who stopped at that gas station to get gas was put at risk, and that’s exactly what happened to Darrell,” Michaels alleged.
Michaels argued the gas station failed to reasonably safeguard the property, even though it knew criminals were plaguing it. “Crime is a problem at this gas station,” Michaels said.
He said his law firm’s investigators compiled crime figures at the station, showing that from 2009 to 2012, it had six robberies, 20 drug arrests and 57 assaults.
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Lawsuits such as the one filed in Brackett’s death are brought under premises liability law and are common, according to Nova Southeastern University law professor Bob Jarvis.
They range from minor slip-and-fall accidents at supermarkets or stores to severe cases in which people die, said Jarvis, who is not involved in Brackett’s case.
“The question always is what duty the landlord has to the patron,” Jarvis said. “Did the landlord fail in that duty?”
Generally in such cases, landlords or businesses contend their level of duty to the customer is low, arguing that they aren’t responsible for what some other person does, whether it’s a customer falling from not paying attention to where they're going or it's a criminal unforeseeably attacking a customer.
Meanwhile, patrons argue the businesses’ duty is high, saying businesses should safeguard their premises as reasonably as possible, Jarvis said.
In addition to showing that the landlord knew a customer was at risk of harm, plaintiffs also must demonstrate “the landlord did nothing, and that if the landlord had done something, the injury would not have happened,” Jarvis said.
Most of the time, such lawsuits are settled before reaching trial, Jarvis said.
In Brackett’s case, Miami-Dade police say three assailants were involved. Last month, police spoke to one suspect, Alex Cineas, 21, police said.
Late Wednesday, Miami-Dade detectives visited the gas station and passed out fliers. They say that Willie Summersett, 30, of Miami, is a prime suspect in Brackett’s killing.
However, no arrests have been made, pending an ongoing investigation.
It’s not the first time that Michaels’ law firm, the Haggard Law Firm, has pursued a lawsuit against the same company, the law firm said.
The law firm previously sued and won a $5.7 million verdict against the company in the 2009 slaying of Trinard Snell, which happened at a company gas station just north of where Brackett was burned, the firm said. That lawsuit similarly hinged on a negligent security, the law firm said.
Michaels said the latest lawsuit was meant to send a message.
“Throughout this lawsuit, we hope to send a message to Urbeita Oil and to other business owners that security has to be Priority No. 1, not an afterthought,” Michaels said.
Ignacio Urbieta, the oil company's lawyer, said that the company is a family business where safety always has been its priority.
"We express our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Darrell Brackett, the victim of a heinous crime committed near a U-Gas station on 27th Avenue in Miami," Urbieta said. "We support police in their efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice."