A jury awarded over $46 million in damages to the families of two women who were shot and killed by a disgruntled employee at the Kraft Foods plant in Northeast Philadelphia in 2010.
A jury last month found U.S. Security Associates, Inc. (USSA) of Georgia negligent in the deaths of Tanya Wilson, 47, and LaTonya Brown, 36, and awarded their families $8.02 million in compensatory damages. On Wednesday, a jury then awarded the families $38.5 million in punitive damages, bringing the total to more than $46.5 million.
Wilson and Brown were killed in 2010 after Yvonne Hiller, a third employee at Kraft, was suspended from her job and returned shortly after armed with a .357 magnum. Hiller also shot and injured a third co-worker.
Hiller was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and is serving life in prison.
A lawsuit was filed against USSA stating two security guards failed to protect the people at the Kraft plant during the shooting. A supervisor was instead caught on surveillance video running and hiding in a boiler room, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also accuses the guards, who were unarmed at the time, of failing to warn employees in the plant in the several minutes it took Hiller to walk to a third floor mixing room where Wilson and Brown worked. The guards called 911 but didn't take any additional actions such as contacting Kraft management, using a radio to communicate with the employees or sounding a warning through the plant's public address system, according to the lawsuit.
“The verdict is an important message to U.S. Security that their guards can’t simply run away in the middle of a crisis," said Shanin Specter, of Kline & Specter, P.C., who represented the Wilson and Brown families along with Dominic Guerrini and Patrick Fitzgerald. "They actually have to act like security guards."
A spokeswoman from USSA released the following statement on the verdict:
U.S. Security Associates believes that its personnel on duty on the night of the North Philadelphia shooting made reasonable decisions and acted with courage in the face of a direct threat to their own lives. In no sense did they or USSA display an intentional disregard for the safety of others. We are disappointed in today’s verdict and intend to appeal on the grounds that the evidence presented was not sufficient for a punitive damages award to be granted under well-established Pennsylvania law.
At the same time, the people of USSA sympathize deeply with the families of Tanya Renee Wilson and LaTonya Sharon Brown, the two women who died in the shooting, and with Bryant Dalton, who was severely wounded.