First Accent Signage Lawsuit Could Impact Other Businesses

Updated: 02/01/2013 10:15 PM KSTP.com By: Steve Tellier

Minnesota's deadliest workplace shooting has now led to litigation. And the first lawsuit filed in the wake of the Accent Signage murders could impact businesses across the state.

On Friday, the family of one of the victims filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Accent Signage and the shooter's estate. The lawsuit claims the shooting could and should have been prevented.

"The company should have done something to prevent this from happening," said Phil Villaume, an attorney for the family of Jacob Beneke.

Beneke, 34, was murdered at Accent Signage in September. In the lawsuit, his family claims Andrew Engeldinger, the shooter, was, "rude and abusive," "commonly intoxicated at work," and, "an angry individual with a propensity for violence."

"There were people we believe the evidence will show that were in fear of their safety of this man," Villaume said.

Villaume argued Accent management knew that, and should have taken extra security steps when they fired Engeldinger. But they did not offer much evidence that Accent knew he had a history of mental illness.

"We don't know that yet at this point in time, no," Villaume said.

"I think that'll be a tough sell to a jury," said Fred Finch, a labor attorney not involved with the case.

Finch said it looks like Accent's conduct was standard.

"It looked to me like they handled the situation the way most good professional human resources people would handle it," Finch said.

And despite Engeldinger's history of discipline and run-ins with coworkers, "They were not the kinds of things that involved overt aggression or overt acting out where he presented a threat to other employees," Finch said.

Still, Finch said if this lawsuit leads to a large settlement, other employers in Minnesota, and potentially nationwide, would likely make some significant changes.

"I think it will chill other employers. I think other employers will think twice," Finch said.

Finch says those chilling effects could include employers firing people after just one disciplinary action, bringing in security when disciplining or firing anyone, and simply not hiring people they suspect are mentally ill. That would violate employment discrimination laws.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to the Engeldinger family. They declined to comment. Accent Signage spokespeople and the owner's son also declined to comment.