The daughter of a man who died after being held in a headlock in a Bunnings Warehouse store has said she is left with a “void in her heart” as she takes on the retail giant, the security officers and their company in a legal fight.
Bunnings has revealed it will defend the proceedings.
A 2022 coronial inquest found 31-year-old Anthony James Georgiou would have survived if he was not involved in the struggle with two security guards at Melbourne’s Frankston Bunnings seven years ago.
It heard the officers were trying to stop Mr Georgiou from leaving the store having not paid for a gas cylinder and saw blade when they put him in a headlock, causing him to gasp for air and cry for help.
He fell unconscious and was taken to hospital, where he died later that day.
Following the Victorian coroner’s findings, Mr Georgiou’s daughter has launched a civil lawsuit seeking compensation for injury, loss and damage caused by the death.
News.com.au has chosen not to name the daughter, who is still a child.
In a writ and statement of claim filed to the County Court of Victoria and seen by news.com.au, Mr Georgiou’s daughter argued her father’s death was a result of negligence on behalf of four defendants.
Those defendants are the two security officers who restrained Mr Georgiou, their employer New Security Solutions Group and Bunnings Warehouse.
“The Plaintiffs have suffered injury, loss and damage as a consequence of the injuries sustained,” the statement of claim read.
The statement alleged the security guards “used excessive force” by punching and kicking Mr Georgiou before placing an arm around his neck and exerting pressure.
It alleged Mr Georgiou was assaulted “for a long period of time” and had his neck held “such that his feet lifted off the ground”.
It claimed the officers failed to keep Mr Georgiou safe, allow him to leave the store or show reasonable care in apprehending him.
“The death of the deceased was caused by the intentional, reckless and/or (these) negligent acts,” it read.
The writ argued Mr Georgiou’s daughter and her mother suffered psychological injury — including post traumatic stress disorder and depression — as a result witnessing the effect of Mr Georgiou’s injuries and learning of his death.
It claimed all four defendants breached their duty of care to Bunnings’ customers.
In handing down his finding, Victorian coroner Coroner Darren Bracken concluded Mr Georgiou died due to complications with methylamphetamine use and physical restraint.
He ruled that while a combination of factors led to his death, he “would have walked away from Bunnings that day” had he not been restrained.
In a statement, Mr Georgiou’s family said his death has “left (them) burdened with indescribable pain and sorrow”.
“Our lives have been forever altered by his devastating death and we wish those responsible could understand the profound impact their action or inaction has had. Most affected is Anthony’s daughter, who has lost the joy and security that her father provided; she now lives with a constant void in her heart,” they said.
“Bunnings and every other organisation must prioritise the safety and wellbeing of its customers and employees so that no other family has to suffer through a similar loss as we have. We also hope Anthony’s death will serve as a powerful reminder to everyone about the importance of empathy and responsibility in our society.”
The inquest heard the headlock violated Bunnings’ code of conduct and training given to loss prevention officers (LPOs) on dealing with theft.
But it found the officers were not given a copy of the code and neither had attended training.
Bunnings’ director of store operations, Ben Camire, told news.com.au the company will defend the legal proceedings.
“We continue to extend our sympathy to the Georgiou family,” he said.
“As we’ve maintained through the extensive process to date, there’s nothing more important to us than the safety of our team and our customers.”
Bunnings confirmed it does not employ covert LPOs, but hires external professional licensed security service providers at their Victorian stores.
It said it expects its contracted professional licensed security service providers to employ people who have undergone all relevant industry training.
But Slater and Gordon Public Liability Lawyer Neha Pratap said she and her client believe the death would have been prevented had all defendants taken reasonable care.
“My client, through her litigation guardian, is exercising her legal rights to compensation following father’s death, which we say was avoidable,” she said.
“This is also an important public safety issue given a person was placed in a situation of danger that would have been avoided had the defendants taken reasonable care in the circumstances.”
The proceedings will return to the County Court of Victoria at a later date.