Stacey Knighton resided in a Chicago apartment complex owned by East Chicago Housing Authority in 2010. At the time she was involved in a romantic relationship with security guard Donnell Caldwell, who worked for a private security company. The company assigned him to the complex Knighton was a resident of.
On August 7, 2010, Caldwell loaned Knighton his personal car for her recreational use. Reportedly Knighton and a friend drove to a local liquor store in the vehicle. Upon their return, Knighton and friend drove into the complex at the gate Caldwell was stationed at. After brief discussion, Caldwell accused Knighton of spending all of his money and suspected her of driving the vehicle while intoxicated. The two engaged in an argument, which escalated to the point of Caldwell ordering Knighton out of the car and to walk home. The friend who had accompanied Knighton in the car also lived in the apartment complex.
Caldwell then entered the vehicle with the friend still in it and drove away from the guard gate, leaving Knighton behind. A short time later he returned in the vehicle and Knighton had not walked home, but was instead waiting for him at the gate. They continued the argument which became more heated. Knighton admits to having caused damage to the gate during this time.
Eventually Knighton walked away from the scene, heading in the direction of her home. Caldwell went inside the guard tower and retrieved his firearm. He followed Knighton and shot her, striking her backside. The injury resulted in her permanent paralyzation from the waist down.
Knighton sued Caldwell, the apartment’s property management firm, and the security company Caldwell worked for. She was seeking damages for her personal injuries, asserting claims of negligence including negligent hiring and supervision. Additionally, she alleged that her injuries were incurred during the course of Caldwell’s employment, and therefore the security employer and housing authority were vicariously responsible for his actions.
In response, the defendants filed motions for summary judgment, arguing they were not liable for the unpredictable actions of Caldwell. Additionally, the defendants argued that Caldwell’s behavior which resulted in Knighton’s permanent injury were not within the scope of his employment. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants. Knighton appealed.
Once the case reached the appeals court, the defendants’ claims were upheld as it was determined that Caldwell was not acting within the scope of his employment. Rather, he was reacting and engaging in personal matters having nothing to do with his job. Although he was on the clock, his behavior toward Knighton was not the responsibility of the defendants. Additionally, Knighton’s firearm license was suspended, and he had received warnings from the security employer to have his license renewed. This demonstrates responsibility, not negligence, on behalf of the employer.
While the case was unfortunate for Knighton in that her injuries will remain with her permanently, this case does provide implications for security companies and all employers alike. Although the security guard employment company escaped punishment this time, the importance of ensuring that employees are properly trained and have current licensing is critical in ensuring the safety of employees, clients, and the public.
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