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PA Superior Court Dismisses A Ruling Involving $38.5 Million For Punitive Damages

The Pennsylvania Superior County heard a case where a $38.5 million award for punitive damages was in place stemming from a workplace fatality. A panel of three judges found the plaintiffs in Wilson v. U.S. Security Associates that sought damages from a shooting to be beyond the statute of limitations in pursuing the claim. The finding was that the reinstatement of the claim for punitive damages was done in error. The claim was based on “reckless, intentional and wanton” actions by the defendant. Apparently, the plaintiffs later retained new counsel which they felt allowed them to reinstate their claim, although it was too late.

The court sought to ensure fairness in the matter against U.S. Security Associates, whose counsel supported the decision. The plaintiffs feel that the ruling runs contrary to a 1983 Superior Court decision in Daley v. Wanamaker relating to punitive damages in civil litigation. Originally, the plaintiffs here had withdrawn the punitive damage request, yet attempted to pursue them with new counsel later on. Pennsylvania law places a two-year limitation on bringing matters of wrongful death.

In 2010, Yvonne Hiller shot and killed Tanya Wilson and LaTonya Brown, while working at a factory for Kraft. Hiller was suspended from her position at Kraft following fights with co-workers. Hiller was to be escorted from the building by a security officer for U.S. Security Associates; however, the officer failed to verify that she had left and she returned with a gun. Hiller entered the building carrying a 357 Magnum and made her way to the break room when she shot the pair. The security agent apparently ran away once he realized she had a firearm. A jury found U.S. Security to be negligent in the matter and awarded the families of the deceased $8 million in economic damages and $38.5 million in punitive damages.

The $8 million in compensatory damages remained in place in this case of wrongful death and emotional distress. The security staff failed to warn the others in the building over the intercom system that the armed woman had entered the building, which factored in to the possibility for punitive damages. Security staff did call 911 during the situation. The plaintiffs withdrew the punitive claim at some point during the trial. The jury determined that the incident was 70% attributable in the situation and that U.S. Security was 30% attributable. When the plaintiffs eventually filed the punitive claims, the statute of limitations was determined to have expired. A spokesperson for U.S. Security Associates stated that they felt their staff had acted in a reasonable manner and did not exhibit intentional indifference for the safety of those at the facility.

About the Author

Charles GilmanCharles Gilman
Charles Gilman

As managing partner and co-founder of Gilman & Bedigian, it is my mission to help our clients recover and get their lives back on track. I strongly believe that every person who is injured by a wrongful act deserves compensation, and I will do my utmost to bring recompense to those who need and deserve it.


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