On-Air Slaying of Reporter, Cameraman Raises Workplace Safety Concerns

The nation watched in horror the images of a young television reporter and her cameraman fatally gunned down on live television in Virginia recently. The interview subject was also shot, though her injures were non-life-threatening.
The devastating incident was later determined to have occurred at the hands of a former reporter who had been fired from the local news station two years earlier for repeated confrontations with colleagues. Although he had completed counseling through employee assistance at his supervisors’ behest, he was fired anyway for ongoing belligerence and other issues. When his bosses informed him of his termination, police had to be called to escort him from the building as his coworkers locked themselves in a nearby room to escape his wrath.

But he never technically committed any crime. Station managers hoped that would be the last they would have to worry about him. They were wrong. After killing his two former co-workers and wounding the interviewee, he fled and later killed himself.

The case has raised concerns about workplace violence and whether anything might have been done to prevent this incident. The station manager wondered if maybe they could have better vetted the obviously troubled individual, but noted it is difficult to get honest reference information from former employers.

Workplace violence is a major problem for U.S. employees, accounting for 9 percent of all the 4,600 occupational deaths in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When broken down by gender, homicide was the cause of 21 percent of all work-related deaths for women and 8 percent by men. Although more men are murdered on the job, but that’s only because more men suffer workplace fatalities in total.

In 2013, there were 341 men and 67 women murdered on-the-job.

Family members of those who are killed on the job may be entitled to workers’ compensation death benefits. Third party litigation may additionally be possible, but it depends on the circumstances. Most insurance companies won’t cover acts of intentional violence, so victims may have to weigh whether it’s worth it to go after the personal assets of the attacker.

Although violence is not necessarily predictable, labor scholars opine there are a number of ways companies can improve workplace safety and reduce employee vulnerability.

One way is to form a team that can help monitor workers that may be grappling with bitterness. If termination is deemed necessary, it should be handled in a way that preserves the dignity of the worker to the greatest extent possible, so as to defuse the situation. Not every worker whose behavior seems problematic will become unhinged, but it’s necessary to take precautions to ensure the situation is handled carefully to prevent unnecessary hostility. That might in some cases include offering severance benefits, even if it’s not otherwise warranted.

At the same time, companies owe a duty to ensure a safe workplace, and they can in some situations be the subject of a civil lawsuit if they fail to do so, knowing the potential danger to other workers.

If you are a victim of violence at work, consult with an experienced injury lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about your options for compensation.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Virginia Shooting Spotlights Riddle of Workplace Safety, Aug. 27, 2015, By Erik Eckholm and Richard A. Oppel Jr., The New York Times

Murder is the second most likely way for women to die at work
, Aug. 27, 2015, By Dan Keating, The Washington Post

More Blog Entries:
Easley v. TLC Companies – Defining “Widow” for Workers’ Compensation, Aug. 25, 2015, Charlotte Work Death Lawyer Blog

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