Xerox can't be sued in killings
By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer
Family members of the seven Xerox Corp. employees who were shot and killed three years ago by disgruntled co-worker Byran Uyesugi cannot sue the company, Circuit Judge Eden Elizabeth Hifo ruled yesterday.
Hifo said provisions of the state workers' compensation law preclude the Xerox Corp. from being sued.
Family members of the seven men who were gunned down at a Nimitz Highway warehouse at the start of the workday on Nov. 2, 1999, filed a number of lawsuits two years after the shootings, claiming Xerox officials knew for years that Uyesugi had anger management problems, kept an extensive firearms collection and had told supervisors he was afraid to bring any of the weapons to work for fear he might be tempted to use them against his co-workers.
"It was Byran Uyesugi's willful act against his co-employees for which Xerox is responsible under the Workers' Compensation Law, and the same law precludes all other liability of Xerox," Hifo said in a short written order announcing her decision, which she said was mandated under state law.
While the corporation itself cannot be sued, individual Xerox employees can be, Hifo ruled.
Since the shootings, Xerox has calculated how much each of the men would have earned had they remained on the job until retirement age, and has paid the estate of each victim amounts estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Merry Balatico, widow of one of the slain men, Jason Balatico, called Hifo's ruling "sad" and "wrong."
"Every company, because of this, is free from being held liable for the actions of their employees, even if they knew an employee had prior problems and they didn't do enough to keep that employee from hurting others. That's wrong," Balatico said.
She said she believes Xerox could have done more to prevent the tragedy that took the life of her husband and six others.
But Honolulu attorney Crystal Rose, who defended Xerox, said Hifo's ruling was required under state law.
"Many people have suffered as a result of Byran Uyesugi's murderous acts," Rose said. "Under the statute, the victims' families have received workers' compensation and other benefits from Xerox," Rose said.
She declined to estimate the total amount Xerox paid to the estates of the seven men killed by Uyesugi Balatico, Ron Kawamae, Melvin Lee, Ford Kanehira, Ron Kataoka, Peter Mark and John Sakamoto.
Honolulu attorney Earle Partington called Hifo's ruling "pretty much black-letter workers' comp law."
"I'm certainly not surprised at it," Partington said. "Hawai'i has a very broad workers' comp law," he said.
Rick Eichor and Robert Klein, two attorneys who filed lawsuits against Xerox on behalf of the victims' family members, could not be reached yesterday to comment on Hifo's ruling or to say whether they plan to appeal.
Uyesugi was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole, the harshest sentence allowed under Hawai'i law. On Dec. 26, the Hawai'i Supreme Court turned down an appeal filed on his behalf.