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A federal appeals court ruling could dramatically limit what victims and their families can collect on claims against Lockheed Martin from a deadly workplace shooting that left six employees dead at the defense contractor’s Meridian plant. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this past week reversed the ruling of a federal judge in Mississippi that Lockheed Martin failed to prove a lawsuit filed by one victim’s family was a workers’ compensation claim. The appeals court sent the case back to the lower court. Under Mississippi workers’ compensation law, damage awards would be limited to about $150,000 for each victim. Under workers’ compensation, payments are required by law to be made to an employee who is injured or disabled in connection with work. At present, all states have some sort of workers’ compensation. Private insurance companies offer employers’ compensation insurance; some states have made such insurance compulsory, and a few have created state insurance funds to secure payments even when the employer is insolvent. U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee last September denied Lockheed’s motion, ruling that the shooting incident fell outside workers’ compensation coverage. The shooting victims and their families earlier sued Lockheed, claiming the company knew employee Doug Williams’ racist views had created a volatile work environment but did too little to defuse the situation. The lawsuit sought unspecified damages. Williams, who had worked for Lockheed for almost 20 years, left a mandatory diversity training class at the plant that makes airplane components on July 8, 2003, and returned with a 12 gauge shotgun and a semiautomatic rifle. Williams shot 14 people and then killed himself. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated the shooting and said Williams created a “racially charged atmosphere” at the plant and allegedly intimidated black workers for years. Five of those killed were black while a majority of the injured were white. Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp. has said its management had no way of knowing that Williams would go on a shooting spree, and asked the court to consider the case under workers’ compensation guidelines. In reversing Lee, the 5th Circuit said, “The only viable conclusion is that, regardless of the ethnicity of the victims, Williams’ act of shooting cannot be separated from the employment status of his victims.” “We would turn a blind eye to reality if we were to conclude that Williams willful acts were directed at most of these targets solely because they were black and not at all because they were longtime co-workers who were black (and white),” the ruling said. The 5th Circuit said the facts of the case — that Williams worked at the plant, the shooting occurred at the plant, those shot were his co-workers — distinguished it from other damage lawsuits. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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