A lawsuit brought by victims of the Orlando nightclub massacre against the gunman’s employer and wife was withdrawn from federal court and filed in state court in South Florida on Monday.
Attorneys for 61 Pulse victims and family members of those killed filed the lawsuit in state court in Palm Beach County, just days after a federal judge said in an order that he doubted federal court was the proper jurisdiction for the case.
The lawsuit claims Omar Mateen’s employer, international security firm G4S, and the wife of Mateen, could have stopped the gunman before the attack last June but didn’t. Forty-nine people died in the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history, and dozens more were injured at the gay nightclub.
The complaint said that G4S bosses knew Mateen was mentally unstable yet continued to employ him as a security guard and didn’t seek to have his firearms license revoked, even after he was investigated by the FBI in 2013 for telling co-workers he had connections to terrorists and a mass shooter. The company has said in statements that it will vigorously defend itself and that the lawsuit was without merit.
The lawsuit also said that Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman, knew her husband was going to carry out the killings ahead of time yet did nothing. Salman currently is in jail awaiting trial in a separate criminal case. She has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of aiding and abetting her husband, and obstruction of justice.
The most recent effort to hold an outside company liable for a mass shooting has failed, at least for the time being. A judge in Connecticut last fall dismissed a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the rifle used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, saying a federal law shields gun manufacturers from most lawsuits over criminal use of their products. The Connecticut Supreme Court, though, has agreed to hear an appeal brought by the victims’ families.
The advantage of suing Mateen’s employer, rather than the firearms manufacturer or seller, is that the victims don’t have the obstacle of the federal law, said Sachin Pandya, a law professor at the University of Connecticut.
But even if the plaintiffs can show Mateen’s employer should have taken some precautions, “you still have to show that what the employer failed to do caused the mass shooting,” Pandya said.
This isn’t the first lawsuit to be filed by family members or victims of the Pulse massacre. Families of three patrons killed in the nightclub sued Facebook, Google and Twitter, claiming Mateen was radicalized through propaganda found through social media.
A fund that was formed after the massacre has distributed almost $30 million to the survivors and relatives of victims.
UCLA law professor Adam Winkler said the plaintiffs must show that the security firm had a duty, failed in its duty and is responsible for what happened. With Salman, they will have to show that she was a co-conspirator or that her failure to report that her husband was dangerous led to the attack.
“This will be a very challenging lawsuit,” Winkler said. “Victims of gun violence are looking for second-best options and that is what this is.”
Separately, city and county officials in Orlando said Monday that they want the one-year anniversary next June of the Pulse massacre to be marked with acts of love and kindness.
Elected officials said that June 12 officially would be dedicated as “Orlando United Day – A Day of Love and Kindness.”
Officials also announced a series of events planned throughout the day on June 12.
An exhibit of artwork collected from memorial sites set up around Orlando after the massacre will be shown at the Orange County History Center, followed by a memorial service at the site of the former gay nightclub.
Another memorial ceremony will be held in the evening around downtown Orlando’s Lake Eola.
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