No one expects to become the victim of a crime. Unfortunately, criminals can target anyone, anytime and anywhere. Crimes frequently occur at businesses, and the employees who are involved in a crime while working are often left traumatized by the experience.
Robbery, theft and burglary are distinctly separate crimes. It's important to know the difference, especially when dealing with crimes in the workplace.
Robbery is when one person takes another person's property by placing the person "in fear of imminent serious bodily harm or death." According to FBI statistics, more than half a million people are victims of robbery each year, and the majority of robberies occur in the workplace. Robbery is a felony in every state.
Theft differs from robbery in that the criminal steals when no one else is present. Usually a theft occurs when the victim least expects it. Taking a cell phone when the owner isn't looking, or shoplifting clothes at the mall are crimes of theft. A victim of theft is not placed in fear of imminent serious bodily harm. In fact, most don't realize their property has been stolen until sometime after the theft has occurred.
Example: Theft and Robbery at a retail store
Mike worked as a cashier for a national retail store. He was short of cash one day, and he took $100 from his register when no one was looking. While trying to balance the receipts, the manager realized Mike had stolen $100. The manager called the police. Several days later Mike was caught by the police and charged with theft. He was fired from his job and awaited trial.
Out on bail and unable to find work, Mike donned a ski mask and sneaked in through the back door of the same retail store. Minutes before closing, Mike pointed a pistol at the manager and demanded all of the cash. In fear for his life, the manager gave up the money. Mike ran out of the store, and the police caught him an hour later. By stealing the money at gunpoint, Mike placed the manager in fear of imminent serious bodily injury or death. Mike was charged with robbery.
Like theft, a burglary generally occurs when no one is present. A burglar breaks into a building, house, apartment, car, boat, or recreational vehicle, with the intention to steal. This crime differs from a robbery because the burglar doesn't place anyone in fear of imminent serious bodily injury or death. Another term for burglary is "breaking and entering."
Example: Burglary turned to robbery
Knowing that the employees of a local convenience store always left shortly after midnight, three men broke into the closed store a few hours later. They didn't carry weapons because they believed that if they were caught by the police, they could only be charged with burglary.
To their surprise, the store owner was inside taking the monthly inventory. They threatened to beat the owner unless he gave them all the cash. The men took the money and as much liquor as they could carry.
The owner called the police who were able to identify the men from the store's surveillance videos. Eventually all three were arrested and charged with robbery. Although the men didn't carry weapons, they could still be charged with robbery because they placed the manager in fear of imminent serious bodily injury if he didn't comply.
It's not reasonable to expect a workplace to be impervious to crime; however, an employer has a legal duty to do everything within reason to minimize the chance of crime against his workers. When an employer fails in that duty and a worker is injured, the worker may have the basis of a third-party claim against the employer.
In most cases, employees who become the victims of a crime in the workplace (including robbery) can legally claim only workers' compensation benefits. Those benefits normally include payment of medical bills, counseling, out-of-pocket expenses (medication, bandages, etc.), and about two-thirds of lost wages. Workers' comp benefits do not include payment for pain and suffering.
If you're the victim of a workplace robbery, you may be able to overcome the restrictions of workers' comp and file a third-party claim against your employer. You must be able to prove your employer's actions or omissions constituted "gross negligence" or a "wanton disregard" for your safety. Unfortunately there's no strict definition for these terms. Courts evaluate the circumstances of each case individually.
If you work in a high crime area, your employer has a legal duty to provide a level of security higher than that found in a lesser crime area. For example, a convenience store owner in the suburbs may not have a legal duty to install bulletproof glass, but a store owner in the inner city may have such a duty.
Whether you're a cashier, delivery man, secretary, waiter, or other worker who deals with the public, your employer has a duty provide training in how to deal with a robbery, should it occur.
In most cases, workers are told to fully cooperate with the robber. Cooperation in a robbery includes keeping calm, avoiding eye contact when possible, and not acting like a hero. The robber probably doesn't want to hurt you or your coworkers. He wants the money, and to get away as soon as possible.
Even when victims aren't physically injured, they can suffer from emotional trauma. Psychological damages such as depression, grief, anxiety, insomnia, and posttraumatic stress disorder can occur. These are real injuries and should not be taken lightly by the employer.
Proving psychological injuries is always more difficult than proving physical injuries. While you truly may have sustained a crippling psychological injury after a robbery, proving it will take a lot of effort. You must be able to support your claim with credible, specialized evidence. Just saying you're depressed, have insomnia, or were otherwise traumatized by the robbery isn't enough.
Specialized evidence includes a written diagnosis and prognosis from a licensed psychologist, psychiatrist or mental health counselor. Testimony from coworkers, friends, and family members about your symptomatic behavior is also helpful. Receipts for anti-anxiety medications, sleeping pills, and other psychotropic medications prescribed to treat your psychological injuries will also support your case.
If you were injured during a robbery but your injuries aren't physically or psychologically disabling, you can probably handle your own workers' compensation claim. If you sustained serious bodily harm, seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
To pursue a third-party claim against your employer, you need the services of a personal injury attorney. You can't hope to succeed against your employer's insurance company attorney by yourself. Proving your employer was grossly negligent will take legal expertise you likely don't have.
Most workers' comp and personal injury attorneys don't charge for initial office consultations. If one accepts your case, you won't have to pay any legal fees in advance. Your attorney gets a portion of your monetary award if and when your case is settled or won at trial. The criminal aspect of your case will be handled by the state or local prosecutor's office at no cost to you.
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