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Negligent Retention In Virginia

Published by on February 29, 2008

A case from 2007 shows that the tort of negligent retention is alive and well in Virginia.  That case — Crump v. Morris — resulted in a jury verdict of $3.1 million against the employer. The VLW Blog reported on the case in March 2007.  (A copy of the court’s opinion on early motions in […]

A case from 2007 shows that the tort of negligent retention is alive and well in Virginia.  That case — Crump v. Morris — resulted in a jury verdict of $3.1 million against the employer.

The VLW Blog reported on the case in March 2007.  (A copy of the court’s opinion on early motions in the case is here: Crump v. Morris.)  Bonnie Sue Crump, 52, mother of three, was shot and killed by a co-worker at the offices of American HomePatient in Harrisonburg, Virginia, on May 16, 2006.  The co-worker had previously expressed interest in a romantic relationship with Crump.  After Crump rejected his advances, the co-worker’s behavior become erratic and confrontational.  The lawsuit, brought by Crump’s husband as a wrongful death action, claimed that American HomePatient negligently retained the co-worker after receiving multiple notifications from Crump about the co-worker’s behavior.  After receiving no response from company management, Crump allegedly emailed them saying “What do I have to do about this, bring a charge or what?”

After a three day trial, the jury deliberated for 2 1/2 hours before returning a $3.1 million verdict in favor of the Crumps and against American HomePatient.  The jury did not award any damages against the estate of the co-worker.  Local news coverage of the jury verdict is here.

This substantial verdict is a warning to employers to be alert to potential workplace violence situations.  Most employers are familiar with their obligation to promptly investigation allegations of sexual or racial harassment in the workplace.  Employers should also be aware that they may be viewed as negligent by a jury if they do not conduct an inquiry into allegations of threatening behavior.  Sticking one’s head in the sand and hoping the problem will go away is not a viable solution to potentially violent employees.

American HomePatient’s 10-Q from the end of 2007 contains the following statement regarding the outcome of the case:

ITEM 1 – LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

     In 2006, an employee working in the Company’s branch location in Harrisonburg, Virginia, shot and killed two co-workers and then himself. The surviving spouses of the co-workers sued the Company alleging, among other things, negligent hiring and retention of the employee who shot their spouses, and sought in their complaints compensatory and punitive damages. These cases are styled Sharon A. Gibson v. American HomePatient, Inc., et al. (Circuit Court, Rockingham County, Va., civil action no. CL06-00549) and George W. Crump, IV v. American HomePatient, Inc., et al. (Circuit Court, Rockingham County, Va., civil action no. CL06-00547). The Crump case was tried in late September 2007, and the jury returned a $3.1 million verdict against the Company for negligent retention of the shooter and negligent failure to maintain a safe work environment. As a result of mediation occurring on November 7, 2007, both cases were settled, and the settlement has been approved by the court. The Company’s insurance carriers funded the settlement and have not, since prior to the mediation, made any demand on the Company to pay any portion of the settlement amount. If any carrier ever makes a claim against the Company for any portion of the settlement amount, the Company will vigorously oppose that claim and may assert counterclaims against the carriers.

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