Accent Signage Wants Wrongful Death Lawsuit Dismissed

Posted at: 03/28/2013 7:35 PM
Updated at: 03/29/2013 6:13 AM
By: Mark Albert

For the first time, the company that was the site of Minnesota's deadliest workplace shooting is responding to the wrongful death lawsuit against it, asking a judge to dismiss the case because it argues the claim is barred from being filed in district court under state workers compensation law and because the plaintiffs cannot prove gross negligence in the "highest degree."

The 23-page motion to dismiss was filed by attorneys for Accent Signage this week in Hennepin County District Court as part of the lawsuit brought by the family of Jacob Beneke, a 34 year-old digital imaging supervisor whose co-worker, Andrew J. Engeldinger, killed him and five others at the Minneapolis company in September.

As part of the filings in the case, Accent Signage revealed Beneke's wife and six year-old son are now receiving approximately $1,181 in biweekly dependency payments under the state's Workers Compensation Act. They are the first known benefits to be paid related to the shooting.

According to the state Department of Labor, 660 work-related deaths in Minnesota from 2002 to 2011 resulted in workers comp benefits being accepted; 77 percent of those were dependency benefits, which include a spouse or child.

In a claim that involves children, the benefits continue until the child is 18 years old and may remain in place while the dependent is in college, according to qualifications spelled out in the Act.

The 2001 death of Vikings player Korey Stringer resulted in a precedent-setting 2005 Minnesota Supreme Court decision that found most wrongful death cases must be filed under the Workers Compensation Act, while only a few that meet a "narrow window" of exceptions may proceed in district court, as the Benekes are seeking to do.

Accent Signage cites the 2005 Stringer v. Minnesota Vikings Football Club case in its motion to dismiss, arguing the Beneke claim does not fall under one of the Court's exceptions.

Attorney Phil Villaume, who represents the Beneke family, said in an interview that his clients "want to have their case heard. They want it known that it was mishandled and it could have been prevented."

Villaume said he thinks the district court is the proper venue for the case and that his team will prove the gross negligence claim.

"The conduct of the company in failing to provide security, failure to have cameras, failure to properly escort Mr. Engeldinger off the property after he was terminated, knowing that he had this propensity for violence - especially against my client, who we know there was personal animosity - given that fact, they should have taken precautions," he said.

Lawyers for Accent, however, in their motion to dismiss called Engeldinger's behavior in the months before the shooting "commonplace employment misconduct" without, the motion states, "any facts that could support a finding that accent knew or should have known that Engeldinger was violent or aggressive and might engage in murder."

After the company fired him on Sept. 27, 2012, Engeldinger went to his vehicle and retrieved a handgun, police say, shooting and killing company owner Reuven Rahamim, as well as employees Rami Cooks, Ronald Edberg, Eric Rivers, and Beneke.

Keith Basinski, a UPS driver making a delivery at the company at the time of the shooting, was also killed.

Attorneys for Accent Signage on Thursday referred 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS to a company spokeswoman who did not return a phone message.

Both sides are scheduled to argue the motion to dismiss in court April 22.