Can a Lawsuit Really Shut Down NorthPark Parking Lots?

A Dallas lawyer is using a provision in the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code as the basis for his request, if he wins a lawsuit filed on behalf of his clients, to shut down NorthPark Center’s parking lots and structures for an entire year.

On March 11, 2019, Yu Luo and Shiguo Wang, who the suit says were visiting from China, were hit while entering the crosswalk on the second floor of the Nordstrom parking garage. Luo was killed, and Wang has remained hospitalized since the incident.

Attorney Marc Lenahan filed the suit in Dallas County civil court on behalf of the families of the two men on Wednesday.

Christopher Shaw

The suit not only alleges that the driver, Christopher Ryan Shaw, 29, of Lewisville, intended to speed through the parking structure until he reached the top, where he would do donuts, but that NorthPark’s parking lots and structures have been long regarded as hot spots for “joyriding.”

Named in the suit are NorthPark, NorthPark Security, NorthPark Land Partners, and NorthPark Management. Shaw, who is awaiting trial on manslaughter and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charges, is also named.

“I don’t know what’s in management or ownership’s head. I could tell you that historically, after doing this for 20 years, it is frequently part of business owners decisions when they decide to do something dangerous or to let something dangerous happen, that they’re saying, you know, if somebody gets hurt, insurance will take care of it,” Lenahan said Thursday. “And indeed, in this case, I don’t know what a defendant’s insurance is at North Park, but insurance will take care of it.”

But shutting down all the parking for a year? How is that even feasible?

Lenahan is using a specific chapter of the state Civil Practice and Remedies Code — 125, subchapter A, specifically — which defines “common nuisances” and outlines penalties. 

According to that code, “A person who maintains a place to which persons habitually go for the following purposes and who knowingly tolerates the activity and furthermore fails to make reasonable attempts to abate the activity maintains a common nuisance.”

Attorney Marc Lenahan points to aerial images that show tire marks that indicate racing has been happening on the top level of NorthPark parking garages (Photos courtesy Lenahan Law Firm)

The subchapter outlines who can sue, and what the penalties could be — and it does include that if the judgment is in favor of the petitioner, “The judgment must order that the place where the nuisance exists be closed for one year after the date of judgment.”

Lenahan admits that the request is more of a bid to apply pressure to NorthPark to improve safety in its parking lots, but one he’s ready to back up in court if necessary.

“If we shut down the parking lots, that doesn’t go under the category of liability insurance,” he said. “That is something that management ownership needs to take to heart and really, really think about, ‘Well, what do we need to do to make this place safer?’”

Lenahan said the code is used most frequently by governmental agencies to shut down places where drugs are sold, or other crimes keep recurring and the owners of the property are not moving to prevent it. 

“It is a powerful law because it’s one wielded by governments in Texas. It’s available also to victims and its citizens so we can use it here,” he added. “And it’s not a law of discretion — if we win, they will be shut down, all of them except for the Macy’s parking lot, because that one is a separate corporate entity than the rest of the properties.”

So it is quite credible that it could happen if the jury sees things our way.”

The garage ramp where Yu and Wang were hit (Photo courtesy Lenahan Law Firm)

But the path to those closures would be slow as the case winds its way through the court system — Lenahan estimates that at best they’d get to that point in two to three years, and he feels the issue needs more immediacy.

“You know, I want to make it safer — I want them to make it safer seven years ago before this happened, but certainly now, since this happened,” he said. “But no changes are being made out there now.”

“I don’t want three more years of strollers going through their drag racing strips — I want them to fix it now,” he said, adding that the families of the two men are on board with making the parking lot safety a sticking point in the case.

“If NorthPark comes to us and says, ‘We want to be with the families and talk about finding a number that would bring some peace’ that’s great,” he said. “But then we’ll say, ‘What are you going to do about the parking lot?’”

“If we can have both of those things come to terms, then we’re done,” Lenahan said. 

Adding more speed bumps and other devices to slow traffic down would be a good start, Lenahan said, but he said in the course of working on the case, he discovered that more cameras (including cameras capable of capturing license plates) would also be a good start.

“NorthPark has this history, right? All of the robberies and the like,” he said, adding that he was sure “there’s gonna be a camera over every inch of that parking garage.”

“I get there and find that there’s not,” he said. “And I’m dumbfounded. How was it that these people haven’t put this in place?” 

Yu Luo

In the suit, Lenahan discusses how both men were active — Yu is a triathlete who has participated in Ironman races, and the two best friends were both, he said, “healthy and active” before a car careened into them, killing Yu as he was thrown into a brick wall and gravely injuring Wang after he was launched over the edge of the garage, falling two flights. 

In the aftermath, the attorney said he has not been able to get NorthPark representatives to meet with the families — Yu leaves behind a wife, child, and his father, and Wang has a wife and child — to discuss the situation.

“I have invited NorthPark’s representatives to meet with the families three times, three times before we filed this lawsuit,” he said. “And three times they said, no, and denied the request.”

“Had they accepted our request, there would have never been a lawsuit,” he added.

In a statement released yesterday, the center said that it was “deeply saddened” by the incident, but added that “NorthPark unequivocally denies all claims of wrongdoing asserted in the lawsuit.”

The statement also declined to comment further on the pending litigation.

Yu Luo and Shiguo Wang

 

 

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected]

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