Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matt Arnold answers the question: “What exactly is a wrongful death claim?”
In a very sad case out of Illinois, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided that an employer could be held liable for the harm that one employee does to another even when the harm occurs outside of work. The decision is an important one not only for the family of the victim, but also for others who are harmed at the hands of a coworker. It’s hoped that the case, by making employers liable, also forces them to take their responsibility of ensuring employee safety seriously.
Events in the case occurred back in 2012 when Alisha Bromfield, who was seven months pregnant at the time, was killed and then raped by her supervisor at Home Depot, Brian Cooper. Alisha had been working at Home Depot as a seasonal worker for five years. During that time, she had repeatedly complained about Cooper, claiming that he was verbally abusive and made her uncomfortable. She had even said she did not want to work with him alone.
Despite these repeated complaints, it appears that Home Depot did little to address the problem, failing to remove Cooper from the company or even from his supervisory role. One of Cooper’s bosses ordered him to take an anger management course, but then never followed up to ensure this actually happened. Instead, Cooper was allowed to continue supervising others, including Bromfield.
Alisha’s family says that the murder took place after Cooper threatened to fire her if she refused to attend his sister’s wedding out of state. Bromfield reluctantly agreed and drove with Cooper over 300 miles to a resort in Wisconsin. After the wedding, Cooper took Alisha back to a hotel room, where he strangled her to death, killing her and her baby, and then sexually assaulted her corpse. Cooper was eventually convicted of several crimes and sentenced to life in prison in 2014.
Alisha’s family filed suit against Home Depot (and two other companies that co-employed Cooper to run the garden center at the store where he and Bromfield worked). They argued that Home Depot ought to be liable for the actions of their workers, even if those actions took place outside of the workplace. A lower court initially threw out the lawsuit, deciding that the company could not be held responsible for the criminal actions of its employees. Thankfully, a three-judge panel on the Seventh Circuit disagreed and reversed the lower court’s decision.
In reversing the lower court, the Seventh Circuit noted that at least 60 people have been intentionally murdered by a coworker, saying that Alisha’s story is sadly an old one that has been told too many times. The Seventh Circuit indicated that now that the case will be sent back to a jury, one crucial question will be whether Cooper used his supervisory authority over Bromfield to force her to go to the wedding in Wisconsin. If so, Home Depot and the other employers could be held liable for her death.
Lawyers for Bromfield’s family have likened liability in this case to an employer’s liability if one worker harms another in the workplace. Handing over supervisory powers in a reckless way can prove to be just as deadly as allowing a worker to operate a dangerous machine. If harm occurs as a result of that grant of power, then it’s only fair that the employer be responsible, whether or not the injury occurs on workplace grounds.
If you or someone close to you has been injured, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today who can help you receive the compensation to which you may be entitled. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC for a free consultation, call at 704-370-2828 or click here for additional resources.
About the Author
Matthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, personal injury and wrongful death claims.
Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.
A board-certified specialist in the practice of Family Law, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state courts in North Carolina, in the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and in the Fourth Circuit United States Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.
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