February 1, 2013

Family of shooting victim sues Accent Signage

Posted in Background Checking, Bullying, Firearms / Guns, Negligence, Negligent Hiring, Negligent Retention, Negligent Supervision, Physical Contact, Workplace Violence tagged , , , , , at 6:04 pm by Tom Jacobson

Kare 11 and NPR are reporting that the family of Jacob Beneke, who was shot and killed in the Sept. 27, 2012 Accent Signage shooting incident in Minneapolis, has sued the company and the estate of the shooter, Andrew Engeldinger.  The twenty-page complaint, which has been filed in the Hennepin County District Court, alleges six separate claims, including that Accent negligently supervised and/or retained Engeldinger.

Whether the Beneke family will ultimately prevail on any of its claims remains to be seen, as the case will likely take months, if not years, to work its way through the court system. Meanwhile, the case gives us a chance to take a look at what is  “negligent supervision” or “negligent retention” in the employment context.

Generally speaking, these claims arise when an employer knows or should know that an employee is violent or aggressive and might engage in conduct that would injure others. Thus, the focus in such cases is mostly on what the employer knew — or should have known — about the violent propensities of the employee who later hurts someone. If the evidence supports that element, then it can be said that the employer owed a duty to protect others from the employee’s threat of harm. If the employer had that duty, then the focus becomes whether it breached that duty by failing to take precautions to protect others and whether or not that breach caused the harm suffered by others.

The Beneke case is not the first time the Minnesota courts have grappled with a negligent supervision/retention claim in the context of a workplace shooting. In 1993 the Minnesota Court of Appeals addressed it in the case of Yunker v Honeywell, Inc., which was also a case where the family of a workplace shooting victim sued the employer (Honeywell) for negligence. There, the Court held that because there was evidence suggesting that the shooter had a history of harassing and threatening co-workers, angry confrontations, challenging co-workers to fight, and scratching “one more day and you’re dead” on a locker door, there was enough evidence to put Honeywell on notice that the employee posed a risk of harm to others. Thus, the Court said, Honeywell owed a legal duty to protect others from this employee.

What you need to know: When an employer knows or should know that an employee poses a risk of harm to others, the employer owes a duty to its other employees to take reasonable precautions to protect them. Whether that duty exists, and what precautions are needed, vary on the facts and circumstances of each situation and workplace. To be proactive, employers need to recognize the signs of potential violence and be prepared to take steps to prevent it from happening.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2013 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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September 28, 2012

Simple Steps DO Make a Difference in Preventing Workplace Violence

Posted in Firearms / Guns, Workplace Violence tagged , , , at 10:14 am by Tom Jacobson

Yesterday’s heinous shootings at Accent Signage in Minneapolis are another sad reminder that workplace violence happens all too often. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there were 506 workplace homicides in the U.S. in 2010, and nearly two million Americans report being victims of workplace violence each year.

Sometimes we’re NIMBY’s about this.  We naively insist that these things only happen elsewhere and Never In My Back Yard. And, even though we may acknowledge the risk, we decide that prevention is too complicated or too expensive, so we do nothing more than cross our fingers and hope the worst never happens.  Two recent real-life examples from my own community show that this is simply not true.

A few weeks ago, a  person entered a neighborhood business and asked the receptionist to use the restroom. The receptionist had no idea of who the individual was or what he was up to. Following company policy, the receptionist simply asked him to sign in as a “visitor” before using the restroom. This was enough to spook the guy into leaving the building. Police officers, who were already in the area looking for suspects in an alleged home-intrusion case that had happened nearby earlier that day, apprehended the guy shortly thereafter. Of course, we’ll never know what might have happened had the guy made his way into the facility, but we do know that this business avoided what could have been a very ugly situation.

Another example is a local business that realized an intruder entered their building through an unlocked back door and then wandered about the unoccupied space in the same building. That problem was solved by simply locking the back door and restricting public access to the front door only.

What you need to know: Sadly, workplace violence is a reality, regardless of how big the business or small the community. Acknowledging the risk is the first step toward eliminating it. The next step is implementing preventative strategies which, depending on the business setting, may include measures as simple as locking doors or requiring a visitor sign-in log. OSHA also offers numerous resources, such as information on risk factors, prevention programs and training resources.

For more information about this article, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2012 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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