Workplace shootings are a growing problem in America. Whether it is a disgruntled employee, an unhappy client, or simply a random act of terror, mentally unstable individuals commit senseless acts all too frequently. Although it is not pleasant to think about, common sense means that we should all prepare for the worst. Although active shooter training can help save lives, in one case there was nothing anyone could do.
Linda Cole worked for an accounting firm. Most people would consider accounting an incredibly safe line of work. However, Linda had one client in particular who troubled her, Jimmy Cooper. Jimmy was a business owner and Linda’s firm handled their tax work. Over time, Jimmy came to disagree with her about how the business’s tax issues should be handled; specifically, he did not want to comply with a state audit. Around 2007, Jimmy picked up his file and took his business elsewhere. Linda attempted to end things on good terms.
Normally, that would be the end of the story. However, nine years later, disaster struck. Jimmy returned to Linda’s firm, gave a fake name to the receptionist, and shot her. According to Jimmy, he did it because of some lingering tax issue.
Because the shooting occurred while Linda was at work, her family attempted to recover workers’ compensation benefits. The case went to trial, and the court stated that Linda’s estate should be able to recover workers’ comp benefits because the incident that led to her death “arose out of her employment.” The employer appealed.
On appeal, the accounting firm presented two main arguments. First, they argued that the shooting was entirely personal. In support of this, they stated that Linda had not actually caused Jimmy’s tax issues. However, the court found that unimportant. The court found that since Jimmy assaulted Linda because of she was his former accountant and because of where she worked, that it could not be a “personal” incident.
The accounting firm’s second argument was that too much time had passed since Linda and Jimmy ended their working relationship for it to be considered anything but personal. Although this may seem reasonable, the court said it did not apply in this case. In one past case, the court had said that a workplace incident was personal when the employee and the attacker had a work-related disagreement, and then later another unrelated disagreement followed.
In another case, there was a work-related disagreement, but no later unrelated disagreement, although the attack did happen later. Looking at these two cases, the court singled out whether or not there was an intervening, non-work related cause of the injury rather than the time between the cause and the injury as the most important factor.
In the end, Linda’s family was able to get the workers’ compensation benefits they deserved. It was truly unfortunate that such a tragedy turned into a messy legal battle. However, the court’s application of the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act was artful and in line with good legal principles.