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The families of United Parcel Service workers killed or injured in a workplace shooting at a distribution facility in San Francisco this summer sued UPS and two other companies for alleged wrongful death, negligence and premises liability.
The lawsuits against UPS, property owner Valacal Co., and security services provider Universal Protection Service LP may address novel questions of an employer’s potential liability for workplace violence, attorney J. Kevin Morrison, who filed the complaints, told Bloomberg BNA. The law regarding the liability of property owners and security providers for these types of incidents is pretty straightforward, he said Sept. 13. But attempts to hold employers legally accountable thus far have been unsuccessful, Morrison said.
That’s because California law—like the law in many other states—provides that workers may only sue their employer to recover for on-the-job injuries under state workers’ compensation law, he said. But there are exceptions to the exclusivity of California’s workers’ compensation law, including where it’s shown that an employer authorized or ratified an act that harmed a worker or workers, Morrison said. That’s what happened here, he said. Morrison is with San Francisco-based personal injury firm Jones Clifford.
“UPS is deeply concerned about our employees and their families. We are reviewing the filings and do not comment on active litigation,” Public Relations Manager Matthew O’Connor told Bloomberg BNA in a Sept. 13 email.
Universal Protection, which does business as Allied Universal Security Services, doesn’t comment on pending litigation, a company spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA in a Sept. 13 email.
Contact information for Valacal couldn’t be found.
The personal injury lawsuits seek damages for the actions of former UPS employee Jimmy Chanh Lam, who allegedly was allowed to enter the facility with firearms and open fire June 14. Co-workers Michael Lefiti and Benson Louie and one other person were killed by Lam, who was allowed into the facility even though he set off a metal detector, according to the complaints filed Sept. 12 in state court in San Francisco.
All told, there were nine lawsuits filed against the companies by the families of those killed in the incident and others who were shot but survived ( Lefiti v. United Parcel Serv., Inc. , Cal. Super. Ct., No. 17-561236, complaint filed 9/12/17 ; Lim v. United Parcel Serv., Inc. , Cal. Super. Ct., No. 17-561241, complaint filed 9/12/17 ; Arquiza v. United Parcel Serv., Inc. , Cal. Super. Ct., No. 17-561240, complaint filed 9/12/17 ; Bailey v. United Parcel Serv., Inc. , Cal. Super. Ct., No. 17-561237, complaint filed 9/12/17 ; Bo v. United Parcel Serv., Inc. , Cal. Super. Ct., No. 17-561243, complaint filed 9/12/17 ; Calderon v. United Parcel Serv., Inc. , Cal. Super. Ct., No. 17-561242, complaint filed 9/12/17 ; Chen v. United Parcel Serv., Inc. , Cal. Super. Ct., No. 17-561245, complaint filed 9/12/17 ; Perez v. United Parcel Serv., Inc. , Cal. Super. Ct., No. 17-561239, complaint filed 9/12/17 ; Tran v. United Parcel Serv., Inc. , Cal. Super. Ct., No. 17-561247, complaint filed 9/12/17 ).
In addition to the lawsuits for Lefiti’s and Louie’s families, there are two lawsuits for workers who were shot or injured but survived the incident and five others for 28 drivers and other employees who were hurt fleeing the scene, Morrison said. The injuries of all the workers other than Lefiti and Louie included post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.
“The security lapses that led to the horrific tragedy and the death and injury of dedicated UPS workers in the course of an ordinary workday, and to dozens of others witnessing the terrifying scene, were entirely preventable,” Morrison said in a Sept. 12 statement announcing the lawsuits. “The Louie and Lefiti families have been shattered by the deaths of their loved ones. Our clients who were shot but fortunate to have survived have long roads of recovery ahead. And our clients who witnessed the assault and fled for their lives are traumatized and struggling to return to work. They all deserve justice for the utter failure of UPS and the other defendants to implement and maintain adequate workplace protections.”
Lam was carrying a MAC-10 submachine gun and an automatic pistol when he passed through a security checkpoint staffed by Allied Universal on the morning of June 14, the statement said. Security personnel made no effort to determine the cause of the metal detector alarm Lam set off when entering the facility, and he was allowed to enter the building unimpeded, the statement said.
Workers had previously complained about safety at the facility, including about firearms and other weapons being brought into the workplace and unauthorized personnel entering the facility, according to Lefiti’s complaint. UPS, Valacal, and Allied Universal knew or should have known they needed to do more to protect workers at the facility, the complaint alleges.
UPS knew guns were being brought into the workplace and that people were “porously” entering the facility, Morrison said. That’s why we are arguing that the company in essence “authorized” Lam’s actions, he said. He said he expects the plaintiffs’ theory “to be heavily contested by UPS.”
Dr. Michael Corcoran of the Workthreat Group in Newport Beach, Calif., told Bloomberg BNA that one only has to listen to the news to know that workplace violence happens far too often. A behavioral scientist and former Secret Service agent who’s been studying the phenomenon of violence since 1970, he said the clinical research shows that individuals who commit workplace violence aren’t typically driven by terroristic notions or some other larger cause.
Rather, common themes underlying workplace shootings like the one in San Francisco include planning and the need of the assailant to reclaim control over a situation, such as their employment, Corcoran said Sept. 13. These individuals are frequently attempting to retaliate for a wrong they believe they’ve experienced, or to right a wrong.
They’re sometimes referred to as “injustice collectors,” he said. “They want others to feel the pain that they experienced.”
He said increased education likely isn’t the answer, because it can be “phenomenally expensive,” particularly for large employers, and needs to be repeated frequently to potentially be effective. That doesn’t mean there usually aren’t telltale signs leading up to an event, Corcoran said.
Changes in an employee’s behavior are often the biggest sign, but it’s generally missed or disregarded because “we like to believe in the goodness” of others, Corcoran said. The issue of workplace violence, he said, “won’t be corrected until it’s recognized as the societal problem” that it is and the country re-examines its “work culture.”
The popular mantra that “work hard and you’ll get ahead” and employers demanding more and more from workforces that are frequently shrinking in size are the biggest contributors to the problem, Corcoran said. Cultural changes in the corporate notion of work must be made to stem the tide of workplace shootings and other violence, he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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