Cracker Barrel sued over response in 2012 shooting
Restaurant failed to protect family, victim’s estate says
Jamie McGee | The Tennessean | and Associated Press
A lawsuit against a Cleveland-area Cracker Barrel Old Country Store raises questions about the responsibility of a business and its employees when violence occurs.
Katherina Allen and her two daughters were fatally shot by her estranged husband on April 12, 2012, at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Brooklyn, Ohio. Now her estate has sued the restaurant, alleging it failed to protect them from him.
Cracker Barrel, based in Lebanon, failed to properly train employees to handle a volatile situation, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday by Katherina Allen’s brother. The suit argues that Cracker Barrel had a duty to customers to take precautions to protect them “from known and foreseeable third-party criminal acts on its premises.” It seeks more than $125,000 in damages.
Attorneys in Nashville had differing views on the company’s obligations.
Sean J. Martin, a personal injury and family law attorney, said employees should have taken some reasonable steps to ensure safety for the patrons if they were aware there was danger, such as securing the building with police or preventing the husband from re-entering, and the case probably will depend on how much the employees knew about the threat.
“A lot of businesses, particularly public places like that, they ought to have policies and procedures in place for how to deal with disruptive customers,” he said. “If Cracker Barrel didn’t train them, they may be on the hook there, too. … I think Cracker Barrel has real exposure here.”
John Roberts, a Nashville attorney who focuses on employment and business law, said Cracker Barrel employees should have responded on moral grounds, but the company doesn’t necessarily have a legal obligation to help the victims.
“From a legal perspective, I don’t think they had a legal duty to offer sanctuary to those folks,” he said. “They had a moral and ethical obligation to offer sanctuary to those folks, just as any human being has a moral or ethical obligation to offer sanctuary to another human being in a perilous situation.”
Roberts advised other businesses to give employees enough practical advice on how to handle a volatile situation.
During the incident, Kevin Allen, 51, angrily confronted his 42-year-old wife at the restaurant and left. Katherina Allen called 911 from inside the restaurant, saying her husband was upset because she had told him she was leaving him. Her husband returned to the restaurant and began shooting. Responding officers killed him.
Cracker Barrel spokeswoman Jeanne Ludington said the company could not comment on the lawsuit but offered an emailed statement:
“The tragic events that took place in our Brooklyn, Ohio, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in April 2012 deeply saddened the Allen family, the community, our employees, and our company,” she said in the email. “We believe that in times of difficulty, families and communities come together and we are grateful to the Brooklyn community for their continued support and acts of kindness.”