Piazza v. Kellim

June 29, 2017 | By Pickett Dummigan LLP

Martha Paz de Noboa Delgado was a 17-year-old exchange student visiting the Portland area from Peru. One night she went with friends downtown to Portland to visit an underage nightclub called the Zone. She was not allowed into the club right away, and was required to line up outside on the sidewalk. While she waited, a man named Erik Ayala walked up to the line and opened fire, killing Martha and another teenager. Ayala then shot himself and died soon afterwards. On behalf of Patricia Piazza, the personal representative of Martha’s estate, Pickett Dummigan McCall attorneys J. Randolph Pickett, R. Brendan Dummigan, Kristen West McCall, and Kimberly O. Weingart, along with Benjamin Grandy of the Law Office of Benjamin B. Grandy PC, filed suit against several parties, including the owners of the Zone nightclub and the coordinators of the exchange student program.

The defendants moved the trial court to dismiss the case before any evidence was developed, arguing that there was no way for the plaintiff to show that any of them could be held responsible for Martha’s death. The trial court agreed. Oregon law provides that a defendant can be held responsible for its negligent actions only if the harm those actions cause is foreseeable, and the trial court agreed with the defendants that Martha’s death was unforeseeable. Martha’s estate appealed.

Randy Pickett argued in front of the Court of Appeals, and later in front of the Oregon Supreme Court, that Martha’s death was foreseeable. The Zone was located in an area of Portland which had been identified by the Portland Police as being a high-crime area. Previous nightclub shootings had put the defendants on notice that this was a risk they took if they forced teenagers to line up on the street. Especially considering the fact that Martha was a child, the defendants could reasonably have foreseen that she might be injured or killed under the circumstances, and a jury should decide whether the defendants should be held responsible.

The Oregon Supreme Court agreed with Attorney Pickett and the other attorneys for the estate. The defendants had argued that the nature of Martha’s death was so random and unexpected as to be unforeseeable, no matter what the neighborhood was like. The Supreme Court disagreed with that, finding that it is the type of injury which is reasonably foreseeable that is important, not the exact injury.