A ruling by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that victims of a fatal shooting at Lockheed Martin in Marion, Miss., are only entitled to workman's compensation. That limits damage awards against Lockheed to $150,000 per victim.
The court reversed a previous U.S. District Court ruling against the company, saying that under Mississippi law, the facts of the case are:
1.) the shooter, Doug Williams, worked at the plant.
2.) the shooting occurred at the plant.
3.) those who were shot were his co-workers.
The appeals court said those facts distinguished it from other damage lawsuits and subjected it to workman's compensation limits. Under those circumstances, the court said, workman's comp is the employees’ exclusive remedy against his employer.
Attorney Jacqueline Smoke of Birmingham, who represents a number of the families, says the ruling is inconsistent with her reading of the worker's compensation law.
"One of the real problems I have with the court's opinion is the court focused primarily on Williams' conduct and it did not appear to examine the conduct of Lockheed Martin and Lockheed Martin's management in light of what they knew about a known racist," Smoke said.
A decision about whether or not to appeal has not been made yet.
"But if the ruling is followed absolutely and all of our state law claims are consumed under the worker's comp statute, we are certainly looking at appealing as an option," said Smoke.
Personal injury attorney Joe Clay Hamilton of Meridian is not involved in the case, but he does have an opinion about the Mississippi worker's comp law.
"The worker's comp law is very limited in what is allowed an employee to receive if injured on the job," said Hamilton. "He may be paralyzed for life but he can only collect a small amount, 450 weeks. Before worker's comp, he could sue his employer. Worker's comp changed all that and made it absolutely faultless. It doesn't matter what the employer does, almost. He's still only responsible to pay him that small amount for 450 weeks."
Hamilton says the plaintiffs would next have to appeal to the United States Supreme Court and he says it is doubtful if they would take the case.