December 1, 2008

Legal Advice on the Cheap

Dollar Tree is a national company with stores in all 48 states. Everything they offer costs a buck. (They are doing very nicely in this recession.) Here's how they describe themselves:

Walk into one of our stores and it hits you immediately: this is a place where shopping is fun. We call it "Thrill of the Hunt". We have worked hard to create an environment where our customers can discover new treasures every week. Where entire families can enjoy looking for that special something.

As you will soon see, the "thrill of the hunt" has become a very unfortunate metaphor for the Dollar Tree experience, at least for one hapless employee.

Taneka Talley worked at a Dollar Tree store in Fairfield, California. On March 29, 2006, Tommy Joe Thompson walked into the store not looking for a bargain, but for someone black. Identifying Talley as a person of color, he stabbed her to death. Talley left a son, Larry, who was 8 years old at the time of the murder.

It seems pretty obvious that Talley was in "the course and scope" of employment at the time of her murder. She had no prior relationship with Thompson. Her death, therefore, is a compensable event under workers compensation. Thompson's racist motives have no bearing on that compensability.

Well, it appears that it's not just the merchandise at Dollar Tree that's worth a buck. Their legal advice is equally on the cheap. Dollar Tree's TPA, Specialty Risk Services, has denied the Talley family claim for survivor benefits. Their reasoning? Thompson's sole motivation for attacking Talley was her race. The death had nothing to do with her being a Dollar Tree employee. She just happened to be at work when Thompson walked into the store on his demonic errand.

The insurer's denial is based upon testimony during Mr. Thompson's mental competency hearing. District Attorney Dane Neilson asked psychiatrist Herb McGrew, "You know that he (Thompson) got up that morning and he said, 'I'm going to kill a black person.' She was unfortunately, the first person he saw, correct?"

"Correct," McGrew said.

It took the jury less than half an hour to determine that Thompson could understand the proceedings against him and was competent to stand trial. At some point, if this case reaches a judicial proceeding, Specialty Risk's denial of the claim will be brushed aside with equal fervor. Dollar Tree would do well to work out a (generous) settlement prior to any such hearing.

If Dollar Tree needs additional motivation to reach a settlement, perhaps they should begin by reading their own "mission and values" statement:

Attitude: Responsibility, Integrity, Courtesy
Judgment: Do the Right Thing For The Right Reasons.
Commitment: Honor and Respect for Self and Company

Do the Right Thing for the Right Reasons, indeed.



You're right about the necessity of doing the right thing. But I have been doubtful for some time about worker comp coverage for deaths and injuries that occur on the job that do not logically arise out of and in the course of work. Many violent workplace deaths I believe arise out of personal animosities...the only work-relatedness is that the death occurred on premises and that(for instance) the rejected lover came to the worksite because he or she knew the other party was at work there.

What is going on is that the system relaxes the standard of "arising out of." Dollar Stores and Sedgwick were trying to enforce it. Insurers don't usually, and I expect that courts very rarely do. This means that the problematic causal relationships are usually not explored in depth.

Although this is a painful situation, SRS's refusal to accept compensability would be the same in my own state. This "injury" did not arise from the work the victim was doing, and was not a hazard to which others outside the workplace could not have also been exposed. Sad, but true.

Vince and Peter, I'd have to disagree. In violent incidents such as this, there is a level of employer control over the situation. What sort of security controls did the employer have in place? Was there a security guard? Cameras? In this particular case, the employee was there to work and was killed by a "customer". I see a work connection there.

That's what employers give up in order not to be sued in civil courts .In California the first test is AEO-CEO and by law is liberally construed . Employers have traded this liberal interpretation of the concept of AOE-CEO to forgo costly civil trials. Employee have given up the right to sue their employer to be automatically covered by the WC law in California.

This case is why people hate insurance companies. SRS (part of The Hartford) should be ashamed.

She was injured (killed) because she was at work (as required by her job) when a bad thing happened. Enough said.

Using their logic, all the people injured at work during 9/11 would have been out of luck. After all the terrorists attacks were certainly personal.


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This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on December 1, 2008 11:49 AM.

The human cost of bringing poultry to the table was the previous entry in this blog.

Icon Cleaners: Amityville Horror Revisited is the next entry in this blog.

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