JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court has affirmed a $3.2 million jury verdict awarded to a woman who sued her employer claiming it failed to protect her from an ex-boyfriend who shot her in the back of the head in the company's parking lot.
According to the court’s Feb. 13 order, Amie Wieland sued Owner-Operator Services, a company that provides management services to transport businesses, in Jackson County Circuit Court.
The order indicates Wieland had reported that she was fearful of her ex-boyfriend Alan Lovelace, and provided the company's human resources department with a description and photo of him.
She further told the human resources department that Lovelace had filed an order of protection against her, but that the allegations he made were actually acts that he was committing against her.
Wieland went to a court hearing on Lovelace' order of protection, but he failed to appear and his case was dismissed. When she returned to work that day she told company officials that she was fearful of him and did not know if he would show up at the workplace.
When she left work that day, Lovelace was waiting for her inside her vehicle parked in the employee lot. As she attempted to walk away, she was shot in the back of the head.
Her suit against the company claimed that it failed to follow its internal safety protocol when an employee reports threats from a known person, such as offering her a parking space in the visitor's lot and offering escort to her vehicle by someone from the volunteer safety team. Additionally, the company had security cameras, but they allegedly were not actively monitored.
After the jury verdict, Owner-Operator sought a new trial, which was rejected by trial court Judge Jack Grate, the ruling states. Following an opinion from a court of appeals, the Supreme Court transferred it for consideration.
The court was split with Justices George Draper, Paul Wilson and Laura Denvir Stith affirming the trial court.
Justices Mary Russell and Patricia Breckenridge dissented.
Russell wrote, "Although the majority opinion states the law correctly, I disagree with its conclusion that Owner-Operator did not preserve its substantial evidence argument for appellate review. Because Employer advanced exactly the same theory of error in its motion for new trial and its appellate brief and properly objected to the verdict director at the instructions conference, its claim that the verdict director was not supported by substantial evidence was properly preserved for appeal.
"Employer, having no legal duty to take precautionary measures set out in its protocol, was unaware of Lovelace’s presence when he entered the parking lot. And because it had no such duty, it was error to allow the jury to consider whether Employer could have known of Lovelace’s presence before he entered the premises, as it misled and confused the jury.
"The jury should only have considered what Employer knew or could have known after Lovelace’s arrival. By submitting this verdict director, the trial court permitted the jury to impermissibly speculate about what Employer could have known before Lovelace entered the property and enter a verdict based upon inadequate evidence. This was error."