Mass shootings in the United States are no longer rare occurrences. There were 371 mass shootings in the first seven months of 2022—a 36% increase from 2014.
As the frequency of mass shootings rises, companies face mounting pressure to implement adequate preparations and safety measures for their employees. In fact, workers are filing more lawsuits than ever against their employers concerning active shooter incidents.
This blog will assess how the landscape has changed for companies looking to protect their businesses and employees and whether they should invest in protections like active shooter liability insurance.
How did we get here?
According to the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s general duty clause, employers must provide a workplace free of recognized hazards. While this could include active shooter incidents, business owners haven’t had to be too concerned with potential lawsuits in the past. They have felt secure knowing they are not liable for acts of violence on their properties if a judge finds that they couldn’t have been aware of the incident.
For instance, when a gunman opened fire on a McDonald’s in 1984 and killed 21 people (injuring 11 others), the ensuing lawsuit went in the fast food company’s favor. The victim’s families and survivors argued that McDonald’s had been negligent, as they didn’t hire private security even though they were operating in a high crime area. McDonald’s claimed the attack was an isolated and unexpected occurrence, falling outside their general duty to protect their workers or patrons. Back then, the courts agreed with McDonald’s.
However, the courts may have ruled differently if this were to happen today. With the increasing rate of mass shootings in the U.S., it’s becoming harder for judges to classify active shooter incidents as rare, once-in-a-lifetime occurrences. Companies must face the reality that an incident like the shooter at McDonald’s, the 2012 shooting at a Cinemark theater in Colorado, the 2014 mass shooting at a FedEx warehouse in Georgia, or the many others occurring in recent years may happen at their premises, too.
Are companies really at risk of a lawsuit?
Lawsuits against a company can come from a variety of sources—from your patrons to your own employees. One such example is the 2022 shooting at a Kroger in Collierville, Tennessee in which one employee was killed and 15 people were injured. An injured employee has filed a $10 million suit against the grocery store—citing negligence on the part of their employer as the company was aware of the shooter’s previous confrontational behavior.
Employees have many employment-related protections that might become infringed by an active shooter incident. Factors affecting this include:
- Negligent conduct of the employer or third parties.
- Injuries sustained.
- The motivation of the shooter.
- The type of relief sought by the worker.
One of the most frequent legal remedies that victims of a workplace shooting seek is a personal injury lawsuit. This can be against the shooter, the employer, or other potentially responsible parties (such as a private security firm). In these instances, it’s harder for an employee to sue their employer for personal injuries because of worker’s compensation laws. These laws were explicitly designed to eliminate the need for lengthy litigation by providing injured workers with fixed monetary awards.
However, there are exceptions to this rule, such as when:
- The employer does not carry worker’s compensation insurance.
- The employer’s intentional conduct was the direct cause of the worker’s injuries.
In those cases, companies have been—and are increasingly—at risk of a lawsuit.
How can companies best prepare?
There are a few options available to firms. The first is to hire a security technology firm that will provide consultations to businesses to identify:
- Weak points or gaps in their security and advising on how best to address them.
- Additional barriers to foot traffic.
- How open a space is.
- Ease of navigation for vehicle traffic.
Businesses can then take the time to shore up their defenses, which will help their case in the event of an active shooter. A Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia is currently being sued for $50 million by a former employee. In 2022, a team lead at the store opened fire, killing six people and injuring others. The lawsuit claims that Walmart had been notified of the shooter’s past aggressive and suspicious behavior towards other employees and hadn’t acted on the information. Companies should always have strong policies in place to address unsatisfactory employee behavior, and they must ensure that those in a position of power will uphold these policies.
Additionally, companies should invest inactive shooter liability insurance. Depending on the type of insurance, this can cover:
- 1st dollar victim coverages (medical, counseling, and death benefits).
- Liability protection.
- Business income and extra expenses due to acts of workplace violence and deadly weapon attacks.
Do you need active shooter liability insurance?
The benefit of active shooter liability insurance is that it considers all classes of business, from government agencies to public entities. Additionally, it covers a wide range of attack types—such as knives and vehicular attacks—instead of solely covering deadly firearm attacks.
Ultimately, companies should invest time and effort in ensuring their company is ready for an active shooter incident. This ranges from auditing workplace safety and shoring up defenses to investing in protections like active shooter liability insurance in the case of a lawsuit. By covering all its bases, companies are putting themselves in the best position to succeed and avoid losing valuable time and money.
If your organization is looking to protect itself with active shooter liability insurance, consider an Active Shooter/Workplace Violence Insurance policy offered by McGowan Program Administrators. The program considers all business classes and provides an exhaustive range of coverages for your organization.