Woman Injured in On-Camera Shooting of Journalists by their Former Co-Worker Sues TV Station for Negligent Hiring

Workplace Violence

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

A woman injured during the on-camera shooting of two television journalists by their disgruntled former co-worker while being interviewed in August of 2015 has sued the TV station where all three worked for negligent hiring and retention, according to a report from The Roanoke Times.

The complaint filed by Vicki Gardner against WDBJ-TV Channel 7 seeks $6 million in compensatory damages for the negligent hiring and retention of Vester Lee Flanagan II, who shot and killed news reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward in Moneta, Virginia, The Roanoke Times reported.

On August 26, 2015, Gardner was the subject of a live WDBJ interview when she was shot and seriously injured by Flanagan, a reporter who was fired by the station two years earlier due to his volatile behavior on the job and who killed himself later that day while being chased by police.

The Roanoke Times reported that “the complaint accuses WDBJ of negligent hiring and negligent retention with regard to Flanagan” since he had problems with past employers including a TV station in Tallahassee, Florida, that fired him in 2000 for “misbehavior with regards to co-workers.”

The lawsuit filed by Gardner alleges that “WDBJ failed to properly screen Flanagan, who worked under the name Bryce Williams, and it claimed that the station did not conduct criminal background checks when it hired him in March 2012,” The Roanoke Times reported.

The lawsuit also accuses WDBJ of failing to take action against Flanagan for his misbehavior as an employee that caused him to receive multiple written warnings before he was fired in February 2013. “Had WDBJ conducted a reasonable investigation, it would not have hired Flanagan,” it says.

“Not only did WDBJ not properly vet Flanagan, they continued to allow his employment to continue, even 9 months after the first complaint of Flanagan’s violent verbal abuse and threats of imminent criminal battery against its employees began,” the lawsuit continued.

“Had WDBJ taken action sooner, they could have avoided the murder of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, as well as the serious injuries that Vicki suffered, and the carnage of August 26, 2015 would have been avoided,” the negligent hiring lawsuit filed by Gardner concludes.

In August of 2015, ESR News reported that the tragic shooting deaths of Parker and Ward during a live on-camera broadcast was another example of “the widespread prevalence of workplace violence,” according to one Social Commentary posted in the Opinion section of the CNN website.

In “The real issue behind killings of TV journalists,” CNN Political Commentator Errol Louis wrote that the killings of Parker and Adam Ward led “politicians and ideologues” to argue about issues “while skipping the elephant in the room: the widespread prevalence of workplace violence.”

Workplace violence has made news in 2019. In June, a city engineer shot and killed 12 people in an office in Virginia Beach, Virginia after he “resigned the morning of the attack.” In February, five employees were shot and killed at a warehouse in Aurora, Illinois by a worker who was being fired.

According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) for 2017 released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 458 of the 5,147 fatal injuries that happened in a workplace in 2017 were homicides, and approximately 15 percent of those were caused by co-workers or work associates.

“When an employer fails to exercise due diligence and a person is harmed by an employee, that employer can be sued,” Attorney Lester Rosen wrote in ‘The Safe Hiring Manual.’ “The name of the legal action is called negligent hiring, sometimes referred to as the negligent hiring doctrine.”

Rosen, founder and CEO of Employment Screening Resources® (ESR), wrote: “If an employer hires someone who they knew – or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known – was dangerous, dishonest, unfit, or unqualified for the position… then the employer can be sued for negligent hiring.”

According to Rosen, to prove negligent hiring, an injured party (or surviving family members suing for wrongful death) must prove injury, the existence of a duty of care owed toward the plaintiff, the employer breached the duty of care, and causation between the negligent hiring and the injury.

Rosen explained that hiring employers can be sued for negligent retention, negligent supervision, and negligent promotion too: “Liability does not end with the hiring process. In fact, employers can be sued for failure to exercise due diligence in retention, supervision, or promotion as well.”

Rosen, who founded ESR in California in 1997, wrote: “The threat of being sued for negligent hiring is far from theoretical. Businesses can be hit with multi-million-dollar jury verdicts and settlements as well as enormous attorneys’ fees, and the odds seem to be against an employer.”

For example, ESR News reported in November 2016 that a jury in Texas awarded more than $1 million in a negligent hiring lawsuit filed on behalf of an employee killed on the job by a co-worker that claimed his employer knowingly provided an unsafe workplace for employees.

The negligent hiring lawsuit claimed the employer failed to “conduct comprehensive employment background checks and criminal record searches on their employees” and “failed to provide any training or education on identifying and handling this type of violent behavior in the workplace.”

Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) – a leading global background check provider – offers comprehensive background screening services and solutions to help employers avoid “bad hires” that can lead to negligent hiring lawsuits. To learn more about ESR, visit www.esrcheck.com.

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