Policies and Training

A Security Company’s Liability for an Employee’s Terrorist Act

If your employee hurts someone, can your company be held legally responsible? The Pulse shooter’s employer, security firm G4S, responds to a lawsuit accusing the company of liability in the deadly shooting.

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Surviving victims of the June 2016 Orlando, Florida Pulse nightclub shooting, along with families of those who died, filed a lawsuit in March 2017 against the shooter’s former employer, security firm G4S, alleging that the company knew the shooter was mentally unstable and threatening violence.

In recent filings in the case, on August 22, 2017, G4S made it clear that the company intends to vigorously defend itself against the lawsuit, which it considers to be “wholly without merit,” according to the filed statement. G4S is also asking for the lawsuit to be thrown out.

The lawsuit accuses G4S of failing to comply with its own internal protocol to report changes in Omar Mateen’s mental health and seize the weapon the company had issued him. Headquartered in Britain, G4S is considered the largest security company globally. Its U.S. subsidiary G4S Security Solutions is based in Jupiter, Florida.

The lawsuit describes disturbing comments and threats Mateen allegedly made to coworkers when he worked as an armed guard for G4S at the St. Lucie County Courthouse in 2013. According to the lawsuit, the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Department reported Mateen’s conduct to G4S management, requested his immediate and permanent removal from the St. Lucie County Courthouse, and told the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Mateen was interviewed twice by the FBI, but it released him both times. The lawsuit states that G4S declined to reevaluate Mateen, require any behavioral intervention, or suspend his ability to carry a weapon.

A written response to the case from G4S last month states that the lawsuit “does not, and cannot, allege that there is any connection between Omar Mateen’s employment with G4S and his decision to attack the Pulse nightclub and its patrons.”

According to the company’s response, Mateen was never directed to go to the nightclub or have contact with anyone at the nightclub, and did not use any equipment G4S provided during the shooting that killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others.

“Mateen spent his own money as a private citizen to purchase the firearms and ammunition he used to carry out his attack,” G4S states in their response.

Employers can, in fact, be found liable for their employees’ actions that result in harm to other individuals under the doctrine of “respondeat superior.” The general legal theory under the doctrine holds employers liable for the actions of its employees only as it applies to actions that are within the course and scope of employment. For an act to be considered within the course of employment, it must either be authorized by the employer or be so closely related to an authorized act that an employer should be held responsible.

Negligent hiring or retention liability, on the other hand, arises from acts performed by an employee outside the scope of his or her employment where an employer can be liable for the criminal conduct of an employee. The basis for liability is that by hiring the employee for a job, the employer exposed others to harm.

Employers are seen as directing the behavior of their workers, and a company may be legally responsible for harm caused by employees. It will be interesting to see how the courts rule in this very high-profile case.