A Philadelphia jury awarded more than $38.5 million in punitive damages to the estates of two former Kraft employees who were fatally gunned down by a disgruntled co-worker. After less than three hours of deliberations, the jury found in favor of the two deceased employees and voted 11-1 to impose punitive damages in the amount of $38.5 million. This comes after the jury awarded the estates of the two deceased employees $8 million in compensatory personal injury damages. After the jury returned the verdict, the two former employees personal injury attorney noted that the verdict in favor of the plaintiffs sent “an important message to U.S. Security that their guards shouldn’t run away in a crisis, but actually act like security guards.”
During opening arguments, the 12 jurors watched surveillance video of the shooter approaching the security booth where the security guard was sitting and then point the gun at the security guard. Later, the jury was played the 911 tapes where the security guard could be heard breathing heavily and stating that “I’m all shook up, she stuck a gun in my face.” The defense argued that the security guard was experiencing the same extreme physiological reactions as anyone else would have in the situation and that would explain the security guard’s delay in radioing ahead to the factory that someone was entering the factory with a gun. The plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyer pointed out that the security guards received an A-Plus ratings from their employer, U.S. Security, in spite of the fact that two people were killed and the security guards failed to warn the factory employees that someone was approaching with a gun.
In closing arguments, both sides agreed that the security guards who were on duty at the time of the shooting did not know how to use the radio system in the Kraft factory which was a substantial cause in the security guards failing to warn the employees of the approaching gunmen. However, the parties disagreed that the lack of training in how to actually use the radio system by the security guards in the Kraft factory was reckless, which is required for the imposition of punitive damages. Ultimately, the jury disagreed with the defense’s position and found that it was reckless for the security guards not to have received the proper training in the use of the radio systems installed in the Kraft factory.
The jury’s verdict in the Kraft factory shooting highlights the importance of a business’s obligation to provide a safe environment for its employees and customers. Equally important, the jury’s verdict reflects Pennsylvania’s long established law that while a business is not required to provide security, when a business undertakes to insure the safety of its customers and employees, it has an absolute obligation to do so to in a non negligent manner. A non negligent manner includes adequately training, supervising and reviewing the safety and security procedures in place to keep customers and employees safe. Businesses cannot simply claim to provide a safe environment yet fail to take action to actually insure that the environment is safe. This means adequately training employees to respond to emergency situations and in the case of the Kraft factory shooting, hiring security guards who have been provided with adequate training to respond to emergency situations.
Thankfully in State College and the surrounding Centre County community we have never experienced a tragedy such as the one that took place in the Kraft factory outside Philadelphia. However, this does not mean that the result in the Kraft factory case should be ignored. Whether you are a Penn State student who lives in on campus housing or you live in an apartment building in downtown State College, Penn State and the apartment owners have a duty to provide a safe living community, once they accept the responsibility to do so. Similarly, local stores and businesses have a duty to provide a safe environment for their customers. Quiet simply, this means having adequate security in place to keep unwelcome intruders out, functioning locks on the common area doors, well lit parking lots and properly training security guards and Penn State police officers. If you or someone you know has sustained personal injuries in a State College business or Penn State on campus housing, contact the personal injuries attorneys at Rehmeyer & Allatt for a free consultation today.