FROM FOR THE RECORD (Saturday, April 6, 1996): A woman rescued by former Loomis Armored Inc. employee Kevin Gardner was not an employee at the bank where she was being held at knifepoint. A story in Friday’s Spokesman-Review said otherwise.
An armored car company violated “basic public policy” when it fired a Spokane driver for leaving his post to save a woman’s life, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
“Society places the highest priority on the protection of human life,” the court said in an 8-1 decision.
Kevin Gardner filed a federal court suit against Loomis Armored Inc. last year, arguing he had been wrongfully fired in 1994.
U.S. District Judge Justin Quakenbush, who was sharply critical of the company, asked the state’s high court to review the case.
“We’re delighted,” said Gardner’s attorney, Paul Burns.
Burns, who had not read the decision, said Quakenbush now may have to decide only the amount of damages in Gardner’s lawsuit.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” said Loomis Vice President Mike Read, speaking from company headquarters in Houston.
“We view this case as a workplace safety case (and) the right of an employer to enforce well-known lifesaving rules,” said Read. “We do not see it as a public policy case.”
Like Burns, Read said he could not comment further because he had not read the court’s decision.
Gardner did not return telephone messages Thursday.
During arguments before the court last year, Loomis attorney Patrick Folan noted there are numerous examples of criminals luring guards from armored vehicles by faking assaults and screaming for help.
A Lynnwood, Wash., guard was killed in 1991 under such circumstances, Folan said.
But Burns noted that Gardner recognized the woman as a bank employee, so he could be reasonably certain she was not faking the assault. The woman never has been identified publicly.
Gardner was waiting for his partner, who was in the bank, when the screaming woman ran out of the bank, chased by a man with a knife. The man grabbed her, dragged her into the building and held her at knifepoint.
Gardner left his truck and rushed into the bank to help. With help from his partner and a bystander, they eventually subdued the assailant and held him for police.
Under company policy, Gardner should have stayed in the truck and sounded his siren to alert police and his partner that something was amiss, Loomis contended.
The court said its decision “does nothing to invalidate Loomis’ work rule,” but the company went too far by firing an employee who broke the rule in such an extreme situation.
Gardner “unquestionably rescued the hostage from imminent life-threatening harm,” the court said, adding that ruling against him would discourage other people from taking similar actions.
Chief Justice Barbara Madsen dissented, saying the rule requiring a driver to remain in his armored car is vital to protecting the driver from robberies disguised as emergencies.
“It seems obvious to me that following the majority’s decision, the Loomis rule will be called into question whenever a driver leaves a truck,” Madsen wrote.
Quackenbush said during a hearing last year that he was “troubled” by Loomis’ handling of the case.
“Is money (in the armored car) more important than this woman’s life?” he asked Folan.
At the time, Quackenbush urged Loomis to seek an out-of-court settlement with Gardner. Attorneys would not say whether they’ve attempted to settle.
Burns said there’s “little chance” his client will return to work for Loomis. Gardner now works for a Spokane concrete company.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Dan Hansen Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.