Labor & Employment

Tort Law Trumps Workers' Comp in Parking Lot Shooting Case, Lawyer Says

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Ordinarily, workers’ compensation provides the remedy for an employee who is injured or killed at work. But attorney Barry Cohen says he expects tort law to trump workers’ comp immunity for the defendant Florida supermarket in a wrongful death suit he filed over a parking lot shooting in which an ex-employee is now facing first-degree murder charges.

Because state law was revised in 2003 to make it virtually impossible for a worker to sue an employer even in a situation where the injury was substantially certain to occur, the new law is an unconstitutional denial of access to the courts, Cohen contends. And, under a state supreme court decision three years earlier, the family of Greg Janowski has a strong wrongful death case against the Publix supermarket in Tarpon Springs where he worked with the woman who shot him to death, the Tampa practitioner tells the ABA Journal.

The supreme court case, Turner v. PRC Inc., 754 So.2d 683 (Fla. 2000), holds that workers’ compensation law doesn’t provide the exclusive remedy when a workplace injury was substantially certain to occur, explains a National Council on Compensation Insurance magazine article (PDF).

Publix could have prevented the tragedy by paying attention to warning signs that murder suspect Arunya Rouch was potentially dangerous, Cohen contends. But the supermarket chain had no policy or procedure for dealing with workplace violence issues and did not even attempt to warn anyone after she was fired, Cohen says, even though she had allegedly made threats against fellow employees and demonstrated animosity toward Janowski.

Articles in the St. Petersburg Times and 10 Connects provide more details about the case.

Publix has declined to comment about the case, the articles note, saying that it does not discuss pending litigation.

Rouch allegedly went home after being fired on the morning of March 30, got a gun, returned to Publix, waited in the supermarket parking lot for Janowski to arrive for his shift and shot him to death, according to a St. Petersburg Times article published a few days later.

Then she allegedly went into the store, tried to shoot several other employees and was herself shot several times in a gun battle with police, the Suncoast News reported in a same-day article.

No one else was injured except Janowski and Rouch. She has been charged with first-degree murder.

The complaint alleges a jurisdictional amount of damages, and Cohen says he wants to develop his facts before estimating how much he might seek for the Janowski family.

In particular, he says, he wants to know why the store’s manager departed after firing Rouch. When she came into the supermarket after the parking lot shooting on March 30, she went to his office but didn’t find him there, Cohen states.

The “basic mistake was not having a plan in place that taught them how to deal with these things,” Cohen says of Publix. “Workplace violence is a big problem in America today. There’s a lot of stress in the workplace environment.”

His office provided a copy of the Pinellas County Circuit Court complaint (PDF).

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