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Suit says screener missed job applicant’s criminal record

A company that screens job applicants is facing a negligence claim for allegedly missing the “extensive” criminal record of a leasing agent hired by a Falls Church apartment complex.

The company, Liberty Screening Services Ltd., allegedly did the background check on Mark Lawlor before he was hired as a leasing agent for Prestwick Apartments, a complex managed by Berkshire Property Advisors LLC. Liberty purportedly said Lawlor had no criminal record. In fact, Lawlor had served five years in prison for abduction of a former girlfriend.

Last spring, a Fairfax County jury sentenced Lawlor to death for the 2008 murder and rape of Genevieve Orange, a young woman who lived in the Prestwick Apartments. Prosecutors claimed Lawlor used a passkey to enter Orange’s locked apartment as she dozed on her couch.

Marilyn Orange, Genevieve’s mother, sued Liberty and the apartment complex’s owner and management company. Last month, Fairfax Circuit Judge Randy Bellows dismissed Orange’s claim for negligent hiring, but Bellows said Orange could amend her complaint to allege Liberty’s negligent performance of the pre-employment screening contract.

Citing circuit court cases from Charlottesville and Fairfax, Bellows said Virginia courts have recognized an independent tort duty when a party’s negligent performance under a contract causes physical harm or death to a third party.

Arlington lawyer William F. Krebs, who represents Orange, says he has filed a second amended complaint and the court will hear arguments on Liberty’s demurrer on Nov. 4.

“There’s always been this issue floating around, about the duty owed for the criminal acts of a third party,” Krebs said. Reframing the complaint is not really a “stretch of traditional negligence law,” he said.

Fairfax lawyer Garland B. Nagy, who represents Liberty, could not be reached for comment.
By Deborah Elkins

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