September 01, 2012

Estate Can’t Sue Employer Over Beef Joint Killing

September 01, 2012

Alma Rodriguez v. Frankie’s Beef/Pasta and Catering No. 2012 Ill. App. (1st 113155)

Eden Maya shot and killed Jose Rodriguez, a coworker at Frankie’s Beef.  Their employer, Vincent Santoro, observed an altercation between the two and a third employee, Flores.  Santoro learned later that the altercation arose from the fact that he gave Flores the position of fry cook after Maya left for an extended stay in Mexico.  He told Maya to go home for the day to cool off and determined to terminate him the following day.  Upon arriving at the shop the following day, he observed Maya leaving the store with a gun in his hand and saw Flores and Rodriguez bleeding and lying on the floor.  Another witness observed the altercation and was “told” they were arguing about something employment related – the position of fry cook.  Maya’s brother, David, told the police that Rodriguez was “making fun of” Maya and that Flores was a better cook.

Rodriguez’ estate sued his employer.  Frankie’s Beef filed a Motion for Summary Judgment based on the exclusive remedy Provision of Section 5(a) of the Act.  This was granted and, upon appeal, the estate argued that the exclusive remedy provision did not apply because Rodriguez’ death was not an “accident” as defined in the Act.  The court rejected this argument, stating that the Act prohibits employees from making a common law cause of action against an employer unless the employee can show that the injury:

“(1) was not accidental; (2) did not arise from his employment; (3) was not received in the course of his employment; or (4) was not compensable under the Act.” 

The court determined that the term “accidental” describes “anything that happens without design or an event which is unforeseen by the person to whom it happens.” This would include injuries inflicted intentionally by a co-employee, since such events are unexpected and unforeseeable.  The estate argued that the element of foreseeability should be considered as well, arguing that Santoro believed that Maya posed a threat; therefore, Santoro had a duty to protect Rodriguez from imminent harm.

The Court rejected this argument, stating that the facts did not support the contention that Santoro believed Maya posed a threat of harm to others.  Therefore, the estate could not bring a claim against the employer for negligent hiring or retaining Maya.  The Court also rejected an argument that the dispute was purely personal.  The evidence strongly suggested that the altercation ensued due to Rodriguez taunting Maya over having lost his position to Flores.  Thus, the evidence was clear that the altercation resulted from an employment dispute.  Last, the estate argued that Rodriguez’ injuries were not compensable under the Act because he was the aggressor, thereby taking the case outside the scope of the Act.  The Court noted that this issue was not brought before the Trial Court and that there was no evidence to suggest Rodriguez made the first physical contact.  Therefore, the Court rejected this argument as well.


The shooting at Frankie’s Beef was no mystery:  Maya shot Rodriguez and Flores because was angry at having lost his cook position.  Granted that this was not an ‘accident,’ as far as he was concerned – he clearly intended to do what he did – the definition of accidental injuries arising out of employment under the Act is broad enough to include physical altercations generated by job disputes.  Frankie’s Beefrepresents another attempt on the part of an attorney to circumvent the exclusive remedy provision of the Act.  The purpose for this can vary.  In this case, your editor suspectsthat the remedies under the Act may have been severely limited or perhaps non-existent based on Rodriguez’ marital status and a lack of dependents.