March 31, 2015

Philadelphia jury awards $38.5 million in punitive damages against security firm for inaction of security guards

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that a jury has awarded $38.5 million in punitive damages and $8 million in compensatory damages (a 4.81-to-1 ratio) to the families of two women who were shot and killed by a disgruntled employee at a Kraft Foods plant. 

The defendant, U.S. Security Associates, Inc., provided security guards for the plant.  According to the Inquirer story, the plaintiffs presented evidence that the company's two unarmed security guards ran away from the armed gunman and failed to alert the plant workers to the danger. 

The jury awarded punitive damages not against the individual security guards, but against their employer.  The company says it will appeal.  Based on my very limited knowledge of the case (and even more limited knowledge of Pennsylvania law), I expect the company to argue that punitive damages cannot be imposed against an employer for the misconduct of low-level employees, without some evidence of wrongdoing by corporate management.  If the plaintiffs presented evidence that this incident was the result of corporate policy, as opposed to just the rogue acts of a couple of security guards, the article doesn't mention it.