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Note to employers: Listen to workers’ fears

Employees at a Harrisonburg medical supplies office say they tried to warn their boss about a coworker’s strange and threatening behavior. But because the company, American HomePatient Inc., allegedly turned a deaf ear, it now faces the possibility of punitive damages on a claim for negligent retention.

Last spring, a man named Brewer Hoover Jr. developed a romantic obsession for a woman at the office, Bonnie Sue Crump. Hoover threatened Crump because he believed she was having an extramarital affair with Gary Gibson, another guy in the office. Crump was scared: she kept a cane at her desk for protection, and she wouldn’t visit the restroom alone.

On May 16, 2006, Hoover came to the office in the morning, shot Crump and Gibson, and then killed himself. The victims’ families sued American HomePatient and the estate of the killer. And they’ll be able to go after punitives from the company.

The company tried to get that part of the suit kicked out of court, but Rockingham County Circuit Judge John H. McGrath Jr. held in Crump v. Morris and American HomePatient Inc. that the families had alleged “sufficient facts to support the possibility of a finding of punitive damages by a jury.” Motion denied.

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