Answer to suit: 'Publix denies any liability' for grandmother, toddler's murders in store

Answer to suit: ‘Publix denies any liability’ for grandmother, toddler’s murders in store

(As originally published with photos from the scene and of the suspect, Fri, November 18th 2022, 4:42 PM EST)

ROYAL PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — “Publix denies any liability” for the murders of a grandmother and toddler at its grocery store on Royal Palm Beach Boulevard last year.

That’s from the first line of the supermarket chain’s answer, rejecting most of the allegations made in the victims’ family’s wrongful death complaint.

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The document, provided to CBS12 News by the family’s lawyer, claims the company did not have to protect its customers and employees, despite promoting itself as a “team that protects its customers” and takes its “responsibility for our customers’ safety very seriously.”

The response to that — “Publix denies that the context of those statements applies here” — was one of dozens of point-by-point denials of the family’s claims.

Litha Varone, 69, was shopping with her 23-month-old grandson Sam Varone on June 10, 2021, when Timothy Wall shot the little boy.

Then, the 55-year-old Wall fended off the grandmother and shot her before killing himself.

Publix categorically “denied” all claims in the section of the suit called “Duty of Publix to Its Customers,” which started by saying “Publix has a duty to keep its store reasonably safe for its customers and to protect its customers from dangers of which Publix should have been aware.”

Answer to suit: 'Publix denies any liability' for grandmother, toddler's murders in store
The family of Sam Varone and Litha Varone is suing Publix for their murders in the Royal Palm Beach store, June 10, 2021. (WPEC)

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In the next section, called “History of Supermarket Violence,” Publix “denied” the allegation in that lawsuit that claimed there were reportedly “448 incidents involving guns and 137 deaths involving 12 large national retailers,” all grocery chains including Walmart and Costco, from Jan. 1, 2020, to May 14, 2022.

The claim in the lawsuit was, “Publix is not immune to gun violence occurring at its stores. During that time period, 16 of those incidents were at Publix stores resulting in five gun deaths.”

The plaintiffs also argued and Publix simply “denied,”

  • “Active shooter events have been a known risk at Publix supermarkets for years”
  • “Publix knew, or should have known, that violence, including gun violence, at The Crossroads Publix was a potential risk” and
  • “Publix has a continuing obligation to conduct a risk assessment”

Turning to the specific store, “Publix denies that it had a ‘long history of crime in the area.”

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The plaintiffs listed 40 specific police cases “in the area” with numbers, dates, times and offenses, to which the defense said, “Publix is without sufficient knowledge or information to admit or deny the allegations regarding what ‘public police reports reveal,’” since it didn’t have those reports.

As for the tragedy, Publix “denied” the plaintiff claim “there was no visible security, whether it be guards or gun detectors,” and “denied” its store “had no uniformed security in place.”

  • Publix “admitted” it “did have uniformed security at other store locations prior to and on the same day as the tragic events giving rise to this lawsuit.”
  • “Publix admits that it had cameras in place at the subject Publix store,” but “denied” the allegation “nobody monitored them in real time and there was no security to respond to an emergency even if they were monitored.”

Publix “denied” two other accusations,

  • “Providing gun violence security at all of its stores still would have left the company with net earnings of over $4 billion,” and
  • “Publix chose not to do so. Instead, chose to put all of its customers and employees at unnecessary risk.”

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Lawyers for Publix added to the company’s response:

  • “Plaintiffs’ alleged damages were caused by the acts of Timothy Wall, for whose conduct public spares no responsibility,” and
  • “Plaintiffs’ damages were proximately caused by unforeseeable, independent, intervening, or superseding events beyond the control, and unrelated to the conduct of Publix or its employees.”

The plaintiffs asked for a trial by jury. Publix agreed with that point, and said the company intends to defend itself.

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