Training Not A Highway to The Danger Zone

By Elizabeth Chilcoat

When it was discovered that the perpetrator of the Orlando night club shooting was employed as an armed guard, negligence claims against his employer started rolling in. The plaintiffs alleged that the employer was negligent when, despite allegedly knowing about the perpetrator’s past terroristic threats, it gave him marksmanship training and helped him obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon for work.  The plaintiffs also argued that the employer had a duty to warn them of the danger posed by its employee.  On Friday, a Florida court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims. Colon, et al. v. G4S Secure Solutions (USA) Inc., et al., Case No. 502017CA003447XXXXMB AG (Fla. 15th Cir. Ct. March 15, 2019).

Like many states, Florida recognizes that an employer may be liable for negligence if its employee harms individuals within the “zone of danger.”  The idea is that the employer could have (and so should have) avoided the harm to the victim by exercising reasonable care in hiring and supervising its employees and, therefore, is itself liable to the victim.  One challenge is to determine who falls within the “zone of danger,” or, said another way, to whom the employer owes a duty to exercise reasonable care.  Florida also requires a person or entity to warn another of danger, but only if there is a special relationship that would lead one to expect that the other would issue a warning.

The trouble for the plaintiffs was that they were wholly unknown and unrelated to the security firm.  The perpetrator was not employed to secure the club, did not use employer-provided firearms to commit his crime, and did not need the concealed weapon license to purchase the guns he did use.  Training an employee to use firearms is not akin to failing to secure a deadly virus: it is possible to take appropriate steps to secure the virus, but impossible to control all off-duty actions of an employee or former employee in perpetuity.  The plaintiffs were not within the “zone of danger” created by the employment relationship.  Moreover, as strangers to the security firm, the plaintiffs could not establish the “special relationship” necessary to create a duty to warn.