A wrongful-death lawsuit by the family of a worker slain in the mass shooting at Accent Signage Systems may proceed, a Hennepin County judge ordered Tuesday, rejecting company efforts to dismiss the suit.
Judge Denise Reilly did dismiss claims by the family of Jacob Beneke, 34, against the estate of shooter and fellow employee Andrew Engeldinger, for the Sept. 27, 2012, shootings, while allowing two negligence claims against the company to continue. Attorneys for Accent argued that Beneke’s death falls under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act, which applies to cases of injury or death that arise out of the course of an employee’s job. The Beneke family’s lawyers countered that Beneke was gunned down as part of a personal vendetta, and that the company was grossly negligent, citing the shootings as “reasonably foreseeable based on Engeldinger’s past incidents of employment misconduct and his known propensity for abuse and violence.”
Reilly wrote that at this early stage of the lawsuit, she wasn’t ready to rule that Beneke was shot and killed “solely because of his status as an Accent employee.”
“Although the assault occurred in the workplace during working hours, this Court declines to hold as a matter of law that Mr. Beneke’s injuries ‘were not based on personal animosity’ ” Reilly wrote.
The Benekes’ attorney, Phil Villaume, called the ruling is a victory and “somewhat of a surprise.”
“Now we just have to keep the case going.” he said, noting that he anticipates that Accent may appeal.
“At least, for this phase, it puts employers on notice that they have to take precautions when it comes to dismissing problematic employees,” he said. “It also sends the message that employers must provide a safe working environment.”
Beneke, graphic artist for the business in Minneapolis’ Bryn Mawr neighborhood, was one of six people Engeldinger shot and killed after being fired from his job. He then killed himself. Also killed were Accent owner Reuven Rahamim, Ronald Edberg, Rami Cooks, Eric Rivers and Keith Basinski. John Souter was seriously wounded.