MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The family of a man who was among six people gunned down at his Minneapolis office last year is suing the company, claiming it botched the firing of the employee who carried out the attack and should have known from his work history that he was potentially dangerous.
The lawsuit being filed on behalf of Jacob Beneke’s family is the first to stem from Sept. 27 attack at Accent Signage Systems, said the family’s attorney, Phil Villaume.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the lawsuit in advance of a news conference Friday.
“It’s probably one of the most horrendous, saddest cases I’ve ever been involved in in my 33 years of lawyering,” Villaume said. “The Beneke family has suffered terribly, beyond comprehension. It’s just a very, very sad situation all the way around.”
Andrew Engeldinger, 36, pulled a gun at a meeting in which he was being fired and killed Beneke, four other co-workers and a UPS deliveryman before taking his own life. It was Minnesota’s deadliest workplace shooting.
The company had repeatedly cited Engeldinger for offensive behavior, tardiness and poor job performance, and warned him a week before the attack that executives wanted to meet with him about his employment. On the day of the attack, Engeldinger was reminded of the late afternoon meeting and allowed to go to his vehicle before it started, where he retrieved his gun.
Engeldinger’s parents have said he was mentally ill but had refused their offers to get him help. His mother declined to comment for this story.
Beneke’s survivors, in their lawsuit against the company and Engeldinger’s estate, contend that Accent Signage should have known Engeldinger had violent tendencies, was mentally ill and could hurt or even kill others. They say the company also should have known he owned guns, and that the shooting could have been foreseen.
They say the company acted carelessly and was negligent when it gave Engeldinger advance notice about his possible firing and allowed him to go to his vehicle. They also say Accent Signage was negligent for employing Engeldinger for years, despite his prior conduct, and argue that the company should have taken security precautions that it didn’t and trained its employees how to fire someone.
“A reasonable employer in Accent’s position would have, among other things, provided adequate security on its premises, locked its doors, monitored Engeldinger, and would have attempted to terminate Engeldinger in a safe manner,” the lawsuit contends.
“They should’ve had security. They didn’t take action. They knew they had a problem employee,” Villaume said. “We have reason to believe that he was planning this for a long period of time. He was going through gun training at a gun range and had become quite proficient, if you will, at handling a handgun.”
Engeldinger was hired in 1999 and worked in Accent’s engraving department. Beneke, a sculptor and painter, was hired in 2005 as an engraver and was promoted to supervisor.
The lawsuit says Engeldinger was frequently intoxicated at work and drank on the job. It says he held personal animosity toward Beneke, and Beneke often called Engeldinger his “nemesis.” The company’s owner, also killed in the attack, told Beneke of Engeldinger’s firing in advance.
The lawsuit alleges Beneke knew Engeldinger was prone to violence and was fearful on the day of Engeldinger’s firing. Beneke drove a different vehicle to work and told his wife, “It’s good I’ll have the truck, because if he (Engeldinger) goes crazy, he won’t recognize that I have a different car,” the family contends.
Villaume said the Benekes are seeking substantial damages. Beneke, 34, left behind his parents, a wife and a young son. The family was not conducting media interviews Friday.
Messages left with Accent Signage and with the attorney handling Engeldinger’s estate were not immediately returned.
Villaume said the lawsuit is important, especially given recent attacks like the one in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 elementary school students were gunned down.
“It’s about time that people step up and speak out against gun rights,” he said. “Guns in the hands of dangerous people are a dangerous thing, and they kill and harm and maim innocent people _ and that’s what happened here.”
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