Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Should Employers Be Blamed When Their Workers Kill?

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Should Employers Be Blamed When Their Workers Kill?

Article excerpt

BETHESDA, Md. - When Maryland hotel security guard Mark Craft was shot and killed by his boss in July 1994, his family sued, claiming the hotel didn't heed warnings that could have prevented the tragedy. For one thing, after Craft complained to his supervisor, Gregory Broughton, about security and fire-safety problems at the Bethesda Hyatt, Broughton shoved him. Craft told hotel management about this incident, but got nowhere. Two months later, he was dead.

Still, even knowing about the bad blood between the two employees -- and doing nothing about it -- Chicago-based Hyatt won't have to pay. Few employers do. Though an average of 20 U.S. workers are murdered each week on the job - and suits follow in most cases -- the courts tend to side with companies and say that random violence can rarely be anticipated. "It's so hard to predict that someone will explode," said Harriet Cooperman, head of the labor and employment law group for a Baltimore law firm. "Employers are not psychiatrists or soothsayers and the courts understand it."

While overall workplace deaths have decreased in recent years, the number of homicides has jumped. A total of 1,004 people were murdered on the job in 1992, 32 percent more than the average for the 1980s, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Homicides have surpassed machine-related injuries as the second- most common cause of death on the job, after car and truck accidents. "These incidents are on the rise," said Stephen Hall, vice president of Sensormatic Electronics, a Boca Raton, Fla., maker of electronic surveillance systems for businesses. It's the outrageousness of some of these murders that tends to protect employers. In the Hyatt case, for example, on the day Broughton shot Craft, he first killed his wife at a Woodbridge, Va., gas station, then drove to Maryland and set his Ford Mustang on fire. He then apparently rode by train to the hotel, walked to the security office and murdered Craft. Broughton's final act was at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, where he knelt in front of Lincoln's statue for several minutes before shooting himself fatally in the chest. "This is a man who should never have been hired," said Paul Thaler, the attorney who sued Hyatt for the Craft family. "Management turned a blind eye to what was going on." The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond didn't agree. In ruling on the Craft family's wrongful death lawsuit three weeks ago, it did find that management and Broughton's conduct toward Craft were "unprofessional." Yet, it wasn't "atrocious," the judges said, the level required under law for the case to go to trial. The hotel couldn't have predicted the murder, they said. Hyatt is glad the court ruled in its favor, said spokesman Gary Ross, who declined further comment. …

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