Benefits Rejected in Workplace Shooting

TALLAHASSEE — A sharply divided appeals court Wednesday rejected workers’ compensation insurance benefits for a general manager of an Orlando rental-car agency who was shot seven times while on the job.

A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, said Mohammed Bouayad had not shown a “causal link” between the injuries he suffered and the work he performed for Value Car Rental.

“Bouayad did not meet his burden to prove that the injuries he suffered arose out of the work he performed for Value,” said the majority decision, written by Judge Lori Rowe and joined by Judge Thomas Winokur. “The sole cause of his injuries was that he was shot. At most, the work he performed for Value placed Bouayad in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is not enough to establish occupational causation.”

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But Judge Susan Kelsey, in a dissenting opinion, said the majority was improperly shifting the “question of work-relatedness … to a third-party assailant’s (the shooter’s) motive and intent.” Bouayad was shot as he carried paperwork from a rental-car kiosk in a hotel to another building late at night.

“Consider how this analysis would apply to cases involving other tragic acts of workplace violence,” Kelsey wrote. “Under the majority’s reasoning, a teacher injured or killed in a senseless school shooting loses her workers’ compensation benefits. A restaurant worker assigned to close for the night is robbed and assaulted by an unidentifiable thief, and workers’ compensation does not apply. Or, as here, a car-rental agency manager carrying the day’s paperwork to the back office near midnight is deprived of his workers’ compensation remedy by virtue of his inability to prove that the unknown assailant’s motive was work-related.”

Bouayad was walking between the Holiday Inn Orlando-International Airport hotel, where the kiosk was located, and an office in a separate building on June 28, 2019, when he was shot seven times at close range, according to Wednesday’s majority decision. He was not robbed.

Though seriously injured, Bouayad got to the hotel lobby, where he collapsed. He also said “Robert shot me” and said police should look for a blue Ford Mustang, the decision said.

Bouayad sought workers’ compensation benefits, but Value and its insurer, Normandy Insurance Co., denied he was entitled, according to Wednesday’s decision. At least in part, Normandy pointed to a confrontation the day before the shooting between a man named Robert and Bouayad’s wife and son over an alleged debt. The decision also said evidence indicated the man owned a blue Mustang.

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The man was not charged in Bouayad’s shooting.

The dispute about benefits went before a judge of compensation claims, who sided with Bouayad. That led Normandy Insurance to take the dispute to the Tallahassee-based appeals court.

The majority decision said the parties in the case “stipulated that the shooting occurred in the course and scope of Bouayad’s employment with Value, so the only issue in dispute was whether the injuries Bouayad sustained in the shooting arose out of the work he performed for Value.”

Rowe and Winokur overturned the judge of compensation claims’ ruling.

“The question for the JCC was — did the work Bouayad performed for Value — walking between Value’s facilities — itself cause him to be shot seven times at close range?” the decision said. “There is no question that the walking itself did not cause Bouayad’s injuries. Rather, it was the act of the shooter that caused his injuries. So how can it be said that his injuries arose from the work Bouayad performed?”

But Kelsey wrote that state law and court precedents have never required “a claimant to show an assailant’s work-related motive.”

“Never have we ever before imposed an impossible burden on an injured claimant to prove the intent or mental thought process of a third-party assailant. … A workplace shooting claim arising in the course and scope of employment is compensable even if the shooter’s motive is unknown,” Kelsey wrote.

The majority also took the step of asking the Florida Supreme Court to consider issues related to the case — a move known as certifying a “question of great public importance.”

The decision said Bouayad suffered injuries to his left hand, left leg, right arm, intestines, stomach and brain and has suffered strokes, lost a kidney and lost part of his vision.

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