NORFOLK, Va. — A Chesapeake judge has ruled that the Virginia’s Workers’ Compensation Act does not prevent a $50 million lawsuit filed against Walmart by a former employee injured in a mass shooting in Chesapeake last year.
Circuit Court Judge Stephen Telfeyan on Wednesday wrote that Briana Tyler’s complaint “alleges sufficient facts” to survive Walmart’s effort to have the lawsuit dismissed. Telfeyan overruled Walmart’s challenges to the first two counts in the complaint — negligent retention, referring to an employer’s duty to fire an employee who was likely to be a danger to others, and respondeat superior liability, which refers to an employer’s responsibility for the actions of staff done within the scope of their employment — but sustained Walmart’s challenge to the charges of gross negligence and willful and wanton negligence.
Telfeyan issued the ruling Nov. 15, a week before the the anniversary of the shooting on the 22nd, but Tyler’s attorney received it in the mail Monday.
This ruling marks the first time a lawsuit from a former employee of the Chesapeake Walmart stemming from the November 2022 shooting has been allowed to move forward, and has significant implications for other employees who have pursued legal action as well as other plaintiffs in the state. Tyler’s complaint stalled in April when Telfeyan sustained Walmart’s demurrer arguing for dismissal, but she was allowed to refile within 30 days.
The central issue in the lawsuit is whether the employee’s can only receive workers’ compensation benefits for their injuries in the shooting or whether they can seek damages, which amount to a substantially larger sum.
This hinges on whether the court deems the shooter’s actions against his coworkers to be personal or aimed at them simply for being employees at Walmart. Tyler alleges that because the shooter specifically chose not to shoot another employee before aiming at her, and because he stopped chasing another employee to pursue her, that he was targeting her.
Tyler’s lawsuit is one of two filed by former employees that are active against the retail giant. Sarah Merlo filed a $25 million lawsuit in September seeking damages for her trauma from the shooting. Two other surviving employees have filed similar lawsuits, as has the estate of an employee who was killed, though these were withdrawn earlier this year. It’s unclear if they will refile as a result of last week’s ruling.
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