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Publix sued by estate of shooting victim

After a manager posted the work schedule at a Tarpon Springs Publix, Arunya Rouch crossed off a co-worker's name, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday. When someone asked her why, she said: "because he's dead — I killed him."

This allegedly happened four days before the shooting in which co-worker Greg Janowski actually was gunned down and Rouch was charged with murder.

The lawsuit filed by Janowski's estate claims Publix should have done more to warn others of trouble brewing.

In fact, the lawsuit claims Publix "had fostered and created a dangerous condition by the way in which its managers had handled the termination" of Rouch.

Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit contains what appear to be new details about the case, although there also are some gaps in the story. For example, it does not identify the co-worker who purportedly saw Rouch cross Janowski's name off the schedule.

It also claims Rouch was a favored employee who got the lion's share of coveted overtime assignments in the Publix seafood department. The animosity Rouch had for Janowski reportedly began when Janowski told management about her working unpaid overtime.

Janowski's complaint led Rouch to threaten him, and the threat led Publix to fire her, authorities have said. She was so enraged, she found Janowski in his car outside the store on March 30, and shot him with a 9mm handgun, according to police.

But can Publix be held responsible for a tragedy committed against its own employee?

"We say absolutely," attorney Barry Cohen said Tuesday.

The lawsuit claims Publix created "an inherent conflict in the workplace" because some favored employees such as Rouch were allowed to work overtime, but others were not. And some workers mistakenly thought Rouch was working "off the clock," because they were not told that Publix managers had quietly given her permission to work overtime.

It also claims no one from Publix informed Janowski or his family "of the multiple threats (Rouch) had made to kill him." It claims "no one from Publix took any action whatsoever to ensure that (Rouch) was emotionally stable" at the time she was fired. It claims that her "anger and her subsequent acting out upon that anger was the natural and predictable result of the chain of events set in motion by Publix that morning."

Lawsuits like this can be extremely challenging to win, a fact the lawsuit itself alludes to.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that cases like this can be handled outside of the normal workers compensation process if an employer acts in a way that is "substantially certain to result in injury or death." A few years later, the Florida Legislature toughened the standard, saying an employer's acts would have to be "virtually certain" to cause those dangers. The new lawsuit argues that the Legislature overstepped its authority and violated the Florida Constitution in changing the law.

The lawsuit does not specify an amount of damages, but says the beneficiaries could include Janowski's estate, his wife, his two daughters, two sons and mother.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or ckrueger@sptimes.com.

Publix sued by estate of shooting victim 06/01/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 2, 2010 12:00am]

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