Once again the answer is…
It depends on the situation. These are always horrific tragedies and there are no easy answers. The simplest way to try to answer this question is to ask whether the injured (or deceased) worker was exposed to an increased risk of being victimized by a mass shooter due to the nature of their employment. Some could claim that all employment these days could increase someone’s exposure to mass shooters since these seem to happen all the time at random places. These shooters seem to be seeking out locations where large groups of people would be gathered such as malls, schools, nightclubs, or other public places. With the number of school shootings that have occurred over the last several years, a strong claim could be made that anyone working in a school is at risk of getting shot by a mass shooter. Sad.
But the courts in Virginia have consistently decided that the injured worker must provide some evidence that their employment increased their risk of being exposed to a mass shooter or that the shooting was directed at them because of their employment. The courts will generally not just presume that there is an increased risk and award medical and wage loss coverage.
In a workers’ compensation case, a worker may suffer a random attack from someone he knows or doesn’t know. A random attack is compensable (covered) if the employment situation generates a risk of assault to the claimant. An injured worker may prove an assault arose out of his employment if he can prove the job subjected him to greater risk of assault – even if he knew his assailant – as long as no evidence suggests the motivation for the assault was personal.
In Virginia (and in most states), if an assault was solely based on a personal disagreement, then it can be difficult to have it covered by workers’ compensation insurance. There are many different situations that arise at work that could be considered personal or unrelated to work. The case of King v. DTH Contract Services (2019), is helpful in understanding the current state of the law in Virginia. In this case, a former co-worker of Mr. King stabbed him in the face while he was working alone as the overnight attendant at a rest area for DTH Contract Services (the employer). The assailant’s motives were never known & the claim was initially denied by the VWCC (Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission) because Mr. King did not prove that his injury arose out of his employment.
Fortunately for Mr. King, the Virginia Court of appeals reversed this decision and ruled in his favor. They held that a worker that is the victim of an assault may prove an injury arose out of his employment if he proves that the job subjected him to a greater risk of assault, as long as no evidence suggests the motivation for the assault was personal. If the motive is “unknowable”, the assumption is that the motive was not personal, and the claim would be covered.
Of course, this does not cover all situations. Cases like these usually come down to the specific facts of the case. And I sincerely hope you will never have to deal with this type of situation.
These statements are for general information purposes only and not considered specific legal advice. Mr. Shoen would need to meet with you individually to ensure client confidentiality and would need additional information not provided in this article. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please consult an attorney directly for legal advice.
To learn more about the Law Office of Darren Shoen, or to speak with a lawyer, visit their website at shoenlaw.com.