Accent Signage Systems' 'Botched' Firing Led To Murderous Rampage, Lawsuit Claims

Accent Signage Systems shootings scene

By Amy Forliti

The family of a man who was among six people gunned down at his Minneapolis office last year are suing the company, claiming that it botched the firing of the employee who carried out the attack and should have known he was mentally ill and potentially dangerous.

The lawsuit being filed on behalf of Jacob Beneke's family is the first to come from Andrew Engeldinger's Sept. 27 attack on Accent Signage Systems, said the family's attorney, Phil Villaume.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the lawsuit in advance of Friday's formal announcement.

"It's probably one of the most horrendous, saddest cases I've ever been involved in in my 33 years of lawyering," Villaume said. "The Beneke family has suffered terribly, beyond comprehension. It's just a very, very sad situation all the way around."

Engeldinger, 36, fatally shot Beneke, four other co-workers and a UPS deliveryman before taking his own life.

More: Workplace Shooting Leaves 5 Dead In Minnesota

The company had repeatedly cited Engeldinger for offensive behavior, tardiness and poor job performance, and it warned him a week before the attack that executives wanted to meet with him about his employment on the day of the attack. That day, Engeldinger was reminded of a late afternoon meeting, and before heading in, he when to his vehicle to retrieve a gun. When company executives told him that they were firing him, he pulled it out and began killing.

Engeldinger's parents have said he was mentally ill but had refused their offers to get him help. His mother declined to comment for this story.

The wrongful death suit, which names the company and Engeldinger's estate as defendants, alleges that Accent Signage should have known from Engeldinger's pattern of behavior that he had violent tendencies, suffered from a severe mental illness, and could hurt or even kill others. The lawsuit says the company acted in a careless, negligent and grossly negligent manner when it gave Engeldinger notice of his potential firing in advance and allowed him to go to his vehicle. The lawsuit claims the company had no security cameras that would have filmed Engeldinger as he retrieved his weapon, and there was no extra security on hand for his meeting.

More: Guns In The Workplace: Gun Shop Owner and Legislator Face Off

The lawsuit says: "a reasonable employer in Accent's position would have, among other things, provided adequate security on its premises, locked its doors, monitored Engeldinger, and would have attempted to terminate Engeldinger in a safe manner."

"They should've had security. They didn't take action. They knew they had a problem employee," Villaume said. "We have reason to believe that he was planning this for a long period of time. He was going through gun training at a gun range and had become quite proficient, if you will, at handling a handgun."

According to the lawsuit, Engeldinger was hired in 1999 and worked in Accent's engraving department. Beneke was hired in 2005 as an engraver, and eventually became a supervisor in the digital imaging department.

The lawsuit says Engeldinger held personal animosity toward Beneke, and Beneke often called Engeldinger his "nemesis." The company's owner and founder, who was also killed in the attack, told Beneke on Sept. 24 that Engeldinger was going to be fired three days later and that the information should be kept secret.

The lawsuit alleges that Beneke knew Engeldinger was prone to violence, and that he was afraid of what might happen on the day of the shooting. Beneke drove a different vehicle to work and told his wife, "It's good I'll have the truck, because if he (Engeldinger) goes crazy, he won't recognize that I have a different car," the family contends.

More: Guns-To-Work Laws Proliferate, Despite Mass Shootings And Employer Opposition

The lawsuit claims that Accent is liable for Engeldinger's wrongful acts. Villaume said the Beneke family is seeking "substantial" damages. Beneke, 34, left behind a wife and a young son. Messages left with Accent Signage and with the attorney handling Engeldinger's estate were not immediately returned Friday.

Villaume said the lawsuit is important, especially given the recent attacks like the one in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 elementary school students were gunned down.

"It's about time that people step up and speak out against gun rights," he said. "Guns in the hands of dangerous people are a dangerous thing, and they kill and harm and maim innocent people - and that's what happened here."

The shooting at Accent Signage was Minnesota's deadliest workplace shooting.

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If Washington worked on the ecomony, economic stress would lessen. The country needs jobs and a future not excuses and blame.

February 02 2013 at 4:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
You balding bum!

Well, it's true that just about any place these days will have heightened security in a situation like this, and will actually escort you out moments after they fire you. I agree that the firing should have been sudden and unannounced, and the man escorted out immediately. I doubt that there are any laws or regulations concerning this, so the company may not be held negligent unless they violated either their own policies or some law.

Mental illness or no mental illness, I agree that the company should have been more careful in their execution. Losing one's job these days might very well be the last straw for some people, and this should always be kept in mind.

February 02 2013 at 2:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well firing people "At Will" as is the case in most states is not working out very well.
These corporations and businesses with the attitude that they will just get another employee
is the wrong attitude. I imagine this type of murder is going to be happening a lot lot more as long as the evil corporations and the people running them keep treating people like robots.

hope they sue the company out of business

February 02 2013 at 11:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Just remember in trying to solve this problem, any solution based on 'emotions' will always cause more harm than you were trying to prevent. The reason is quite simple.....the heart has no grey matter.

February 02 2013 at 11:14 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Guns do not kill people, people kill people. I don't know of any gun that can get up and kill anyone by itself. If a person means to do harm, they will find a way, with or without a gun. It is not the guns fault! I am sorry that people have died, but this ambulance chasing lawyer is just trumping up this story for publicity, and trying to make a buck at someone elses expense. There are too many sue happy people/lawyers tying up our court system with frivolous lawsuits leaving little resources for actual cases now! Not to mention if the government takes away our fundamental right to bear arms, who do you think will have the guns? The criminals, and the rest of us will just be left defensless, because we no longer have the right to purchase our own protection from them. The police can only do so much.

February 02 2013 at 11:03 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I agree with tooltrucks here. Only 3 types of people kill, mentally disturbed people, soldiers/cops, and people under satan's grasp.

February 02 2013 at 10:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Guns are just too easily accessible in this country

February 02 2013 at 10:55 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

A rather familiar American story....find a high-profile lawyer, who in turn will find who has the deep pockets, and then the lawsuits can begin.

February 02 2013 at 10:54 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Yeeesh! It wouldn`t have made any difference how they fired him.This nutjob would have retaliated anyway. For the anti gun croud,his hatred for the employer would have pushed him to get his revenge by any means possible and the more carnage and mayhem he could create ,all the better to him. As far as the lawsuit is concerned,evidently there must be something genetic in their way of thinking. Here we go again with another blame the victim lawsuit!

February 02 2013 at 10:40 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The shooters parents say they were trying to get him mental health care and he refused? Then turn him in! Jump up and down to notify the police, the courts, everybody! You knew he was dangerous, and you were in denial about it, and looked away. Gun rights have nothing to do with this tragedy. It has everything to do with mental illness - again. The shooters parents should be the ones getting sued here, if anyone is sued.

February 02 2013 at 10:31 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tooltrucks's comment

Tooltrucks the law is clear, you cannot commit someone because they have a mental illness.they have to be proven a clear and present danger.he would have had tobe threatening people, attacking people, talking about shooting, etc. just because they act erractic you cannot force an adult into care.many people act out daily, act in strange ways but that does not make them dangerous. they may een hae been afraid of him but legally thier hands were tied

February 02 2013 at 7:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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