Lawsuit against Omaha Catholic charities over shooting drill dismissed

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A judge has dismissed a claim that she sustained physical and emotional injuries during an intense shooting exercise involving actors smeared with fake blood and a man firing blanks from a semi-automatic pistol.

Douglas County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Burns has ruled that the Workers’ Compensation Court must rule on Sandra Lopez’s lawsuits against Catholic charities over last year’s workout at the organization’s headquarters, Omaha World-Herald Wednesday.

Lopez said in the lawsuit that administrators failed to warn employees about the exercise scheduled for May 19, 2022. One administrator who knew it was staged told her, “It’s a shooting” as they ran out of the building together, according to the lawsuit.

Lopez said she injured her back during the escape and was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Catholic charities sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, arguing that it should be decided by the Workers’ Compensation Court, which has jurisdiction over industrial accidents.

Lopez’s attorney, Tom White, argued that Catholic charities deliberately harmed Lopez and other employees by not telling them that the teachings were staged. He said an exception to state law should be made when an employer intentionally harms employees.

But Burns granted a motion by Catholic charities to be fired last week, saying Nebraska law and case law established that the Workers’ Compensation Court was the exclusive remedy in such cases.

White said he intends to appeal the decision.

Burns said he agreed with the alleged evidence that Catholic charities had a “specific intent to harm” Lopez. But he cited a 2013 Nebraska Supreme Court decision that dismissed a lawsuit filed by the family of a grain bin worker who died due to criminal negligence on the part of his employer.

The state Supreme Court said the man’s death was an accident, despite the employer’s negligence. It states that any changes that allow exceptions for intentional acts must be made by the Legislature.

A man hired by Catholic charities to conduct the exercise, John Channels of Omaha in August, was charged with five counts of terrorist threats and one count of weapons. The channels were not named in the lawsuit.

The incident unfolded when Channels showed up at an Omaha Catholic charity, firing blanks and staging “victims” who appeared to have been injured or killed, police said. The charity hired him to test the readiness of its workers for such an attack.

Police said the charity paid Channels $2,500 to stage the shooting and granted his request not to inform employees ahead of time.


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