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Is a Georgia Employer Liable for an Off-Premises Employee Shooting?

In 2014, Georgia enacted the Business Security and Employee Privacy Act (BSEPA), more popularly known as the “Bring Your Guns to Work” law. The purpose of this law is to prevent private and public employers in Georgia from restricting the freedom of their employees to keep firearms in their cars while at work. Basically, an employer may not “search the locked privately owned vehicles of employees or invited guests on the employer’s parking lot,” so long as any guns are kept “locked out of sight within the trunk, glove box, or other enclosed compartment.”

Lucas v. Beckman Coulter, Inc.

So long as an employer complies with the BSEPA’s requirements, it cannot be held civilly or criminally liable for any injury arising from the “transportation, storage, possession, or use of a firearm” from its premises. The law makes two exceptions, however, for cases in which the employer itself actually commits a crime using a firearm or it otherwise “knew that the person using such firearm would commit such criminal act” on its premises.

In October 2016, the Georgia Court of Appeals said this language in the BSEPA effectively granted employers broad immunity “from firearm-related tort liability,” even in cases where its employees were negligent in the use of guns. The Georgia Supreme Court recently reviewed the Court of Appeals’ decision and held the lower court interpreted the law incorrectly.

This case involves the accidental discharge of a firearm by an employee of the defendant employer. The defendant is in the business of selling and servicing medical equipment. On the day of the accident, the employee traveled in a company-owned vehicle to a customer’s health care facility to perform maintenance. While in the customer’s parking lot the employee spoke with a friend of his who worked at the healthcare facility.

The friend mentioned that there had been a string of car break-ins at the facility’s parking lot. The employee, who kept a personal firearm in his work vehicle (in violation of his employer’s policy), decided to retrieve his weapon so it would not be stolen. A few minutes later, as the employee was attempting to clear his gun into the customer’s building, it discharged striking both the employee and his friend.

The friend is the plaintiff in this lawsuit. He sued the employee and his employer, alleging “negligent supervision” and vicarious liability on the part of the latter. The employer argued that it was immune from both claims under the BSEPA.

As the Georgia Supreme Court explained, the law only “exempts employers from liability that might arise by complying with the … prohibition against maintaining a policy of searching an employee’s own vehicle (or those of guests) on the employer’s parking lot” for firearms. Here, the employee transported a weapon to an offsite location using an employer-owned vehicle. Accordingly, no immunity applied.

The Supreme Court did not rule on the merits of the plaintiff’s lawsuit. It merely instructed the Court of Appeals to consider whether the plaintiff had presented a viable claim under the theories of negligent supervision or vicarious liability.