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Lawsuit In Accent Signage Shooting Case Can Proceed

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(credit: CBS)

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – A Hennepin County judge has ruled that part of a lawsuit filed by the family of a Minneapolis office shooting victim can go forward against Accent Signage Systems, but all claims against the gunman’s estate have been dismissed.

The family of Jacob Beneke, 34, sued Accent Signage and the estate of gunman Andrew Engeldinger in February, alleging the company should have known from Engeldinger’s work history that he was potentially dangerous. Engeldinger, 36, pulled a gun at a Sept. 27 meeting in which he was being fired and killed Beneke, four other co-workers and a UPS deliveryman before taking his own life.

It was Minnesota’s deadliest workplace shooting.

In a ruling filed Tuesday, Hennepin County District Court Judge Denise Reilly said two negligence counts against Accent Signage can proceed. Four other counts were dismissed.

Beneke family attorney Phil Villaume said his clients are happy part of the case survived.

“This was a very traumatic experience for them. They wanted to have their day in court, and now they’re going to get it,” Villaume said.

Wendy Khabie, a spokeswoman at Accent Signage, said attorneys had not fully reviewed the judge’s ruling. She had no further comment. An attorney for Engeldinger’s estate did not immediately return calls.

Defense attorneys argued that Hennepin County didn’t have jurisdiction and that the claims fell under workers’ compensation laws. Reilly disagreed and said the Workman’s Compensation Act would not apply, as plaintiffs claimed that Beneke was targeted in this case.

“Although the assault occurred in the workplace during working hours, this Court declines to hold as a matter of law that injuries ‘were not based on personal animosity,'” she wrote.

The company had repeatedly cited Engeldinger for offensive behavior, tardiness and poor job performance, and warned him a week before the attack that executives wanted to meet with him about his employment. On the day of the attack, Engeldinger retrieved a gun from his vehicle after being reminded of the late afternoon meeting.

Engeldinger’s parents have said he was mentally ill and had refused their offers to get him help.

Beneke’s survivors claim Accent Signage should have known Engeldinger had violent tendencies, was mentally ill and could hurt or even kill others. They say the company acted carelessly and was negligent when it gave Engeldinger advance notice about his possible firing and allowed him to go to his vehicle. They also say Accent Signage was negligent for employing Engeldinger for years, despite his prior conduct, and argue that the company should have taken security precautions.

Reilly said two negligence claims could go forward because, when considering a motion to dismiss, she must look at the case in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs, and must accept the allegations as true at this stage — whether or not the allegations can be later proved.

Other counts, including assault and battery claims, and claims for infliction of emotional distress, were dismissed. Reilly said all of those counts relate to the harm and mental distress Beneke experienced during the shooting, and those claims ended with his death.

Engeldinger was hired in 1999 and worked in Accent’s engraving department. Beneke, a sculptor and painter, was hired in 2005 as an engraver and was promoted to supervisor.

Beneke left behind his parents, a wife and a young son.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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