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July 27, 2023

Lawsuit blames Pat’s Steaks for customer's 2021 shooting death

The victim’s family says the South Philly cheesesteak spot should have had hired security officers

Lawsuit Shooting
Pat's King of Steaks THOM CARROLL/for PhillyVoice

Pat's King of Steaks in South Philly has been the site of a string of violent incidents in the last few years. A lawsuit filed this week faults the cheesesteak spot in the death of man shot there in 2021.

Pat’s King of Steaks is being sued over a deadly shooting that took place outside the popular cheesesteak destination in July 2021. A lawsuit filed today in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas by the family of David Padro Jr. argues that Pat’s is to blame for his death because they did not have security personnel on site when Padro was shot.

The wrongful death lawsuit seeks $50,000 in damages, claiming Pat’s was negligent in its duty to keep its customers safe.

The 22-year-old was shot around 12:45 a.m. after he and Reading resident Paul Burkert argued following Padro accidentally bumping into Burkert’s parked car while the latter was waiting in line for a cheesesteak. The argument escalated into a fistfight, then Padro charged at Burkett and reportedly put him in a headlock. Once freed, Burkett shot Padro in the chest, killing him.

In June, Burkert was sentenced to 3.5 to 10 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter after he and his girlfriend Jamie Frick pled guilty to charges related to the killing. Yet while the people involved in the incident have been held responsible, Padro’s family thinks Pat’s shares some responsibility for not doing more to prevent his death.

The lawsuit says Pat's employees were aware of the escalating conflict and did nothing to intervene before it turned fatal, thus making the business liable. But more importantly, the complaint faults Pat’s for not having taken preventive measures – like hiring security guards – prior to the shooting.

Pat’s owner Frank Olivieri declined to comment when contacted by PhillyVoice on Wednesday, although he previously defended his establishment in an interview in September 2021, saying it is not a “public menace,” but rather that the string of violent incidents there were “a sign of the times.”

The suit’s rationale hinges in part on the notion that a recent history of violent incidents at Pat’s should have compelled its owners to hire security staff. Specifically, the complaint points to the August 2016 stabbing of a 20-year-old man and a shooting outside Pat’s in December 2020, arguing that the business was aware of the risk of late-night violent and unruly behavior.

The lawsuit faults Pat's for its "abject refusal" to hire security personnel, even after Padro's death; just two months later, another man died outside of Pat’s during a 15-person brawl stemming from an argument over a soccer match.

During Burkett’s trial, both the presiding judge and the defendant himself acknowledged that the presence of security personnel would likely have prevented the incident from escalating and resulting in Padro's death. The lawsuit cites this as further evidence that Pat’s is liable for the killing.

It’s unclear how likely the suit is to prevail, but past legal precedent suggests it may have a shot at going to trial. A business's liability for a shooting that occurs on its premises is an evolving legal question, according to an analysis from the American Bar Association

In 1987, a lawsuit filed against McDonald's after a mass shooting killed 21 patrons at one of its California restaurants was dismissed because such shootings were so rare it was considered unreasonable to expect McDonald's to foresee and prepare for such an incident. But shootings in the United States are much more common now. By contrast, a 2015 lawsuit against Planned Parenthood filed under similar logic – that the organization was responsible for the safety of people inside one of its Colorado clinics when a gunman opened fire there – was initially dismissed, but was then permitted to proceed to trial by a higher court. Still, Planned Parenthood was ultimately not found liable.