OMAHA, Nebraska — A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by an employee of Catholic Charities of Omaha who said she suffered physical and emotional injuries during an active shooter drill involving actors smeared in fake blood and a man firing blanks from a semiautomatic handgun.
Douglas County District Court Judge Timothy Burns ruled that Workers’ Compensation Court should decide Sandra Lopez’s claims against Catholic Charities over the drill last year at the organization’s headquarters, the Omaha World-Herald reported Wednesday.
Lopez said in the lawsuit that administrators did not warn employees that a drill was planned on May 19, 2022. One administrator who knew it was staged told her, “It is a shooting” as they ran out of the building together, according to the lawsuit.
Lopez said she hurt her back while fleeing and also has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Catholic Charities sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, contending it should be decided in Workers’ Compensation Court, which has jurisdiction over accidental work-related injuries.
Lopez’s attorney, Tom White, argued that Catholic Charities intentionally injured Lopez and other employees by not telling them the drill was staged. He said an exception to state laws should be made when an employer intentionally harms employees.
But Burns granted Catholic Charities’ motion to dismiss last week, saying Nebraska laws and court precedent established that Workers’ Compensation Court is the exclusive remedy in such cases.
White said he intends to appeal the ruling.
Burns said he agreed the alleged facts show Catholic Charities had a “specific intent to injure” Lopez. But he cited a 2013 Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit filed by the family of a grain bin worker who died because of criminal negligence by his employer.
The state Supreme Court said the man’s death was an accident, despite the employer’s negligence. It said any change to allow exceptions for intentional acts would have to be made by the Legislature.
The man who was hired by Catholic Charities to stage the drill, John Channels, of Omaha, was charged in August with five counts of making terroristic threats and one weapons count. Channels was not named in the lawsuit.
The incident unfolded when Channels showed up at Omaha Catholic Charities firing blanks and staging “victims” who appeared to have been wounded or killed, police said. The charity had hired him to test its workers’ preparedness for such an attack.
Police said the charity paid Channels $2,500 to carry out the mock shooting and went along with his request not to inform employees beforehand.