On July 18, 2017, the Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned a $38 million punitive damages verdict in a 2010 workplace shooting case. In Wilson v. U.S. Security Associates, two employees of a food manufacturing company in Philadelphia were shot and killed, and another employee was seriously injured, after a disgruntled co-worker opened fire.
The estates of the two employees filed negligent security lawsuits against the security company hired to guard the food manufacturing facility where the shooting occurred.
The case involved a shooting at a bakery in Northeast Philadelphia in 2010. An employee, Yvonne Hiller, had verbal altercations with several employees on the day of the shooting and had been ordered to leave the premises. A security company supervisor was ordered to escort Hiller while she left. The supervisor did not escort her to her car, and instead left her at the guard shack. Hiller walked to her car herself and retrieved a gun. She proceeded to the guard shack, pointing the gun at one of the guards who let her back onto the premises. She then continued toward the bakery where she shot at multiple workers before killing two and wounding a third.
The parties disputed whether the security guards called anyone from the company that owned the bakery (so that an evacuation could be ordered). Both did call 911, however. The trial court found that 8 minutes had lapsed from the time that Hiller arrived at the guard shack until she reached the area of the bakery where the shootings took place.
The complaints initially included a claim for punitive damages, which were later withdrawn. During trial, however, counsel for the plaintiffs moved to amend the complaints to add the punitive damages claims back in, which the trial court allowed.
At trial, the security guard testified that he called bakery management during the incident. He later admitted to lying about having done so, out of fear of losing his job. The jury trial found the shooter 70% liable and the security company 30% liable for the shooting. At a second trial on the issue of punitive damages, another jury awarded over $38 million.
On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court found that the trial court erred when it allowed the plaintiffs to add the punitive damages claims back in, since the statute of limitations had expired.
The court did, however, uphold the $8 million verdict against the shooter and the security company. The court found that the evidence at trial was sufficient to find negligence on the part of the security company.
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