Workplace violence has been on the rise in recent years. It may consist of threats, assault, shootings, and murder.
When a person is injured or killed by workplace violence, is it considered a workplace accident under workers’ compensation laws? Are benefits available?
They are, but the incident has to be work-related. But that begs the question: Is not a shooting that happens in the workplace work-related? Not necessarily, and a Florida case proves this point.
The case in question is Normandy Insurance Co. vs. Mohammed Bouayad and Value Car Rental. It involved a shooting that happened after a general manager left work and walked to an office. This case was complicated by the fact that the shooter was never identified and his motives are unknown.
The shooting happened in June 2019. Mohammed Bouayad was working as a general manager for Value Car Rental at the Orlando International Airport Holiday Inn. After his shift ended, he was walking to an outside office when a man shot him at least seven times at close range.
There was no robbery attempt, according to the security video. A hotel guest came to assist Bouayad, who told the guest that “Robert shot me.” He also said to warn police to be on the lookout for a blue Ford Mustang.
Bouayad survived the shooting but now has lifelong injuries. He suffered severe injuries to his arms, leg, stomach, and brain. He later lost a kidney and part of his vision. He also had several strokes.
Bouayad filed a claim for workers’ compensation medical and wage-replacement benefits due to the fact that his injuries happened on the job. However, Normandy Insurance, which serves as the rental car company’s workers’ compensation carrier, denied his claim. The insurance company stated that the shooting stemmed from a conflict between Bouayad’s son and a man known as Robert Aponte. The day before, Bouayad’s son and the boy’s mother were confronted by Aponte and another person over an alleged debt.
Aponte was never arrested for the shooting, as witnesses could not identify him as the shooter from the surveillance video. At the trial, Bouayad changed his story, contending that the shooting was actually work-related and Aponte was not the shooter. He maintained that three employees of the rental company were fired not long before the shooting took place and one of them could have been the shooter.
While Bouayad’s attorney tried to prove that the crime rate was higher near the hotel, Normandy Insurance insisted that Bouayad was a victim of premeditated violence, not a robbery.
Under Florida’s workers’ compensation statutes, the injury must arise “out of work” and be “performed in the course and scope of employment.” What this means is that workers’ compensation laws in the state do not cover workplace injuries, but work-caused injuries. There is a difference.
In previous cases involving workplace injuries, the claimant needed to show only that they were engaged in some type of exertion at work, such as walking. However, the court claims that things are different in a shooting scenario, as it is not reasonable to suggest that walking to get around work can be connected to an injury from a shooting. The claimant must still show a causal connection between the exertion and the injury.
However, Bouayad’s attorney claims that this reasoning creates a double standard. For accident-caused injuries, the injury is almost always considered compensable. It is not fair that in assault cases, victims must establish a work-related motive for the assault. This involves locating the assailant and getting them to testify in court. That is an impossible task.
In Bouayad’s case, the judge of compensation claims found that the evidence did not establish the identity or motive of the assailant. However, the judge noted that the claimant’s employment “substantially contributed to the risk of injury,” above what Bouayad would have seen outside of work. Upon rehearing, the compensation judge said that the assault was a targeted attack likely related to the termination of another employee.
The worker and the employer/carrier agreed in court proceedings that the shooting injuries occurred in the course and scope of employment. However, Bouayad is still without workers’ compensation coverage to pay for his medical treatment and home care.
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While Florida’s workers’ compensation laws do allow for victims to be compensated for shootings and other workplace violence, there needs to be enough evidence to show this. Without enough correlation, the case will not proceed.
Workers’ compensation cases can be tricky. Get the help you need from the skilled legal professionals at Brill & Rinaldi, The Law Firm. Keep in mind that attorneys’ fees for worker’s compensation cases are set by Florida statute. To schedule a free consultation, fill out the online form or call (954) 876-4344. We have offices in Weston, Coral Gables, and Daytona Beach.