If an employee, while on the job, inadvertently shoots you, can you sue the company for which he or she works? Georgia’s Court of Appeals says no in a recent ruling, siding with the trial court that came to the same conclusion. The issue revolves around O.C.G.A. § 16-11-135 or Georgia’s Business Security and Employee Privacy Act passed in 2008. Many of its detractors renamed the law as the Bring Your Gun to Work Act.
Subsection (e) of the above law states:
No employer, property owner, or property owner’s agent shall be held liable in any criminal or civil action for damages resulting from or arising out of an occurrence involving the transportation, storage, possession, or use of a firearm, including, but not limited to, the theft of a firearm from an employee’s automobile, pursuant to this Code section unless such employer commits a criminal act involving the use of a firearm or unless the employer knew that the person using such firearm would commit such criminal act on the employer’s premises. Nothing contained in this Code section shall create a new duty on the part of the employer, property owner, or property owner’s agent. An employee at will shall have no greater interest in employment created by this Code section and shall remain an employee at will.
The company in question employed both the plaintiff and the defendant responsible for shooting him. The two employees met in the parking lot, and the defendant claimed that he kept a gun in his company-provided vehicle. Because of recent car break-ins, he wanted to carry it with him into the building where he was called to perform maintenance to avoid having it stolen. While inside, the defendant tried to clear the weapon by ejecting a chambered round but inadvertently shot his colleague in the abdomen instead. Although the defendant avoided a criminal charge, he was fired for carrying a weapon in his company car, a violation of company policy.
The plaintiff, on the other hand, sustained serious injury and was hospitalized for two weeks. His care totaled over $100,000, prompting him to file suit against both the man who shot him and the company that hired him. Aside from the defendant’s negligence, the plaintiff believed that the company should be held accountable for lack of appropriate supervision and respondent superior, a legal doctrine holding that employers are responsible for the acts of their employees if performed within the capacity of employment.
The company’s defense counsel then countered that the company “thoroughly vetted” the defendant, claimed that the defendant was aware of company policy, and that the law shielded the employer from blame.
The trial court evaluated the lawsuit, noting that the applicable statute does “exempt vehicles owned or leased by an employer” from an employee’s right to carry a weapon to work. The court also pointed out that the exemption does not negate the employer’s protection from being held accountable.
The Appeals Court shared the trial court’s opinion, adding that no language existed “limiting the scope of employer immunity to incidents involving employee-owned vehicles, nor is there a separate subsection of the statute expressly providing a limitation or exception.” The company, subsequently, has been removed from the lawsuit.
The Appeals Court decision didn’t appease the plaintiff’s counsel who has since filed a notice to appeal to Georgia’s Supreme Court.