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ARTICLE ID 195640

$________ INCLUDING $________ IN PUNITIVE DAMAGES – WRONGFUL DEATH – NEGLIGENT SECURITY AT FOOD FACTORY – BUILDING SECURITY NEGLIGENCE – SHOOTING DEATHS OF TWO EMPLOYEES – DECEDENTS SURVIVED BY MINOR CHILDREN – SURVIVAL ACTIONS – PLAINTIFFS CONTEND SECURITY NEGLIGENTLY ALLOWS ARMED, DISGRUNTLED, SUSPENDED EMPLOYEE TO GAIN ACCESS TO PLANT WHERE SHE SHOOTS AND KILLS TWO FORMER CO-WORKERS.

Philadelphia County, PA

These wrongful death and survival actions arose from a ________ shooting at the Kraft-Nabisco bakery in Northeast Philadelphia. The plaintiffs in this civil wrongful death action are the families of two women who were shot and killed at a food factory, when a disgruntled employee gained access to the factory and shot the women who were in a break room at the plant. The female 47-year-old decedent, Tanya Renee Wilson, and the female 36-year-old decedent, LaTonya Sharon Brown, were shot and killed at the Kraft/Nabisco Plant in Northeast Philadelphia on September 9, ________ by a co-worker, the defendant, Hiller, who was a disgruntled employee who just had been suspended from the plant. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant security company failed to provide proper security and protect the employees of the plant. The defendant denied being negligent, and argued that guards acted bravely in the face of a direct threat against them. The estates of the two women killed brought suit against the shooter (a disgruntled employee) and the company that provided security services at the bakery. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant security company was negligent in failing to conduct a proper escort of the known psychotic and suspended employee off the premises. The plaintiff also claimed that the defendant’s security guards failed to warn any of the bakery employees once the suspended employee returned with a gun. The defendant security company maintained that its employees acted reasonably. The co-defendant shooter, Yvonne Hiller, did not appear at trial and was not represented. The plaintiffs sought punitive, as well as compensatory damages. A third shooting victim, who survived the attack, settled his claim prior to trial.

Evidence showed that on the night of the shooting, the shooter, Hiller, and a group of Kraft workers were waiting in line to get their hearing tested, when Hiller started ranting about being sprayed with toxins. Several in the group reported the strange behavior to supervisors who listened to both sides of the story and decided to suspend Hiller. Hiller was suspended after a verbal altercation with the plaintiffs’ decedents. She was escorted out of the building by one of the defendant security company’s two officers on duty. The shooter left the building unattended, walked to her vehicle, retrieved a .________ Magnum handgun, and returned to a back entrance of the plant. She pointed the gun at the two unarmed defendant security officers at the employee turnstile and demanded access back inside. After re-entering the building with the weapon, the shooter then walked through the facility, sought out the co-workers she alleged were tormenting her, opened fire on the co-workers while they were sitting in the employee break room on the third floor, killing the two decedents and seriously wounding a third.

The estates of the decedent brought this negligence suit against the defendant shooter, who was convicted of first degree murder, attempted murder, and reckless endangerment. They also sued the defendant security company, alleging that the on-duty security guards lacked proper training. For example, the guards on duty that evening did not know how to use the phone located in security gatehouse. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s security officers had believed the killer to be psychotic, but had failed to properly escort her off the premises and to her vehicle immediately after she was suspended, and to ensure that she was gone. The plaintiffs also claimed that, once the shooter returned with a gun, the security officers abandoned their guard posts and failed to warn the people in the building that Hiller had returned with a gun, by way of the plant-wide public address system, telephone, or radio. One guard also refused a request for information from a Kraft manager as to the killer’s whereabouts, claiming that he “couldn’t talk,” according to evidence offered by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs alleged further that these officers had been undertrained and unprepared for an active, workplace shooter situation such as this.

The defendant security company denied being negligent or reckless, arguing that their security guards called ________ and “Made reasonable decisions and acted with courage in the face of a direct threat to their own lives. In no sense did they or USSA display an intentional disregard for the safety of others.” The defense argued that there was no evidence of an intentional disregard for the safety of others on the part of the security guards on duty that night. The defense maintained that the responsibility for the killings lies solely with the woman who committed the crimes and was convicted of the murders.

The decedent LaTonya Brown was survived by four minor children. The decedent Tanya Wilson was survived by three dependent children at the time of her death.

The jury found the defendant, Hiller, 70% liable, and the defendant security company 30% liable.

On February 26, ________, the first jury awarded the plaintiffs $________ in combined compensatory damages, $________ to the Brown Estate, and $________ to the Wilson Estate, but was hung on the issue of punitive damages.

On March 30, ________, after a retrial, a second jury found that the defendant security company and its officers acted outrageously, awarding punitive damages in the amount of $________ against the defendant U.S. Security Associates only, for a combined gross total recovery of $________.

The defendant has challenged the legal sufficiency of the verdict through post-trial motions. Post-trial motions are currently pending.

Update: In July ________, a three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court granted the defendants’ JNOV motion as to the punitive damages award, overturning the award and concluding that the trial court should not have permitted the plaintiffs to reintroduce their initially sought, then withdrawn, punitive damages claim midway through the trial after the statute of limitations had expired, reasoning that the reintroduced punitive damages claim constituted a new, separate cause of action barred by the statute of limitations, rather than an amendment to the plaintiffs’ ad damnum clause.

Update: In September ________, the Pennsylvania Superior Court withdrew the July ________ decision and agreed to hear a reargument en banc.

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