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Judge dismisses lawsuit over 2016 shooting outside Montgomery County mall

A set of leg cuffs is passed to another officer as Eulalio Tordil, 62, center, is taken into custody in Silver Spring, on, May 6, 2016. Tordil was convicted of three fatal shootings, including one outside a Montgomery County mall. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The victims of a 2016 shooting outside Westfield Montgomery Mall have lost their bid to hold the mall’s owner and security contractor accountable for the attack in federal court.

U.S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby dismissed the lawsuit on Thursday, finding that the mall did not owe a duty of care to the two men who were shot when a wanted fugitive attempted to steal a woman’s car in the parking lot.

The man who carried out the shooting, Eulalio Tordil, is serving multiple life sentences for the May 2016 killing spree that began with his wife outside their children’s high school in Beltsville. Tordil then went on the run for 18 hours, evading a manhunt, before traveling to the mall in Bethesda.

Tordil approached a woman in the mall parking lot on the morning of May 6, 2016, in what is believed to have been an attempted carjacking. Two men in the parking lot, Carl Unger and Malcom Winffel, tried to help the woman when Tordil shot them both.

Winffel was fatally shot in the chest; Unger was shot four times but survived. Tordil, a former federal security officer, fled to a nearby supermarket, where he fatally shot another woman before being taken into custody later that day.

Winffel’s surviving family members, Unger and his wife filed suit against the mall’s owner and operator and its security contractor in March 2019. The complaint alleged that Westfield, LLC, Montgomery Mall Owner, LLC, and Professional Security Consultants had a duty to protect Winffel and Unger from the attack.

The lawsuit claimed that the mall and security company should have known that Tordil posed a danger to mallgoers while he was still at large. The complaint sought a total of $11 million in damages for Winffel’s estate and for Unger and his wife.

The defendants moved for summary judgment in July.

“There is no question that what happened at the Montgomery Mall on May 6, 2016, was an unspeakable tragedy,” wrote Brian T. Gallagher, who represented the mall and the security company.

“However, there is only one person responsible for the suffering and loss arising out of the brutal attack at the Montgomery Mall, and that is the shooter, Eulalio Tordil.”

The attack was not caused by any negligence by the mall’s owner or the security company, which was fully staffed and patrolling the parking lot at the time of the shooting, according to the motion for summary judgment.

There was also a Montgomery County police officer only 50 yards away from the scene of the shooting and a security camera was operating nearby.

“Defendants cannot be held liable for a completely unforeseeable, unpredictable and random act of a third-party criminal,” Gallagher wrote.

Griggsby agreed, ruling Thursday that neither the mall defendants nor the security company had a legal responsibility to protect the shooting victims. There is no evidence that the defendants thought Tordil posed a threat to the mall, she wrote.

“The undisputed material facts show that the mall defendants did not know of any dangerous conditions on the mall’s premises that could have contributed to criminal activity and that the mall defendants could not have reasonably anticipated that Mr. Tordil would pose a danger to the mall or its patrons,” Griggsby wrote.

Griggsby concluded that the lawsuit could not survive because the defendants did not owe a duty of care to the shooting victims.

Gallagher declined to comment Friday except to acknowledge that he has received Griggsby’s memorandum and order dismissing the case.

A phone message left with Demosthenes Komis, one of the lawyers who represented the shooting victims and their families, was not returned Friday.

One comment

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