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Kansas Supreme Court Selected Opinion Summaries
Schmidt et al. v. HTG Inc. et al., Docket 79,039
June 5, 1998

Summaries and press releases are prepared by Ron Keefover, Office of Judicial Administration, Kansas Judicial Center, 301 West 10th, Topeka, KS 66612-1507 (785-296-2256), e-mail: keefoverr@kscourts.org.


RE: Appeal No. 79,039: Schmidt et al. v. HTG Inc. et al.

The Supreme Court today unanimously ruled that the former employer of Donald Ray Gideon and the state of Kansas are not civilly liable for the wrongful death of Stephanie Schmidt, a Pittsburg State University student who Gideon raped and killed in June 1993.

The Supreme Court, in a decision authored for the court by Justice Edward Larson, said although the case "involves a tragic set of circumstances," the court could not find a duty owed by the owner or manager of the restaurant where Gideon and Schmidt were once employed. The court also ruled that the state and the parole officer assigned to supervise Gideon prior to the murder were immune under provisions of the Kansas Tort Claims Act and further that there was no duty imposed by law for parole officers to notify employers of the criminal history of parolees.

Gideon was on state parole after having been released from prison by mandatory operation of law and was under the supervision of Robert Schirk, a state parole officer, when he met Schmidt in Hamilton's, a Pittsburg restaurant where they were both employed briefly. The homicide occurred the night of June 30, 1993, when Schmidt accepted a ride with Gideon from a Frontenac bar where she had celebrated her birthday. She was no longer employed at the restaurant at the time of her murder. The lawsuit resulting in today's decision was brought by her parents, Gene and Peggy Schmidt.

Regarding Schirk's duty in the case, the court ruled that "although the end result was clearly tragic, the Schmidts have failed to establish that Schirk was aware of an obvious risk so great that it was highly probable that the attack upon Stephanie would follow.

The defendants in the case connected to the restaurant emphasized to the court "that Gideon caused Stephanie's injuries and death during a time in which he was not providing any services for Hamilton's, at a place completely removed from its premises, and with absolutely no nexus to the business."

"They claim the logical effect of the trial court's conclusion (holding them liable), if allowed to become the law of Kansas, would essentially hold an employer liable to any former employee or customer for the conduct of an employee without regard to the relationship among the parties, the passage of time, the location, or any nexus to the employer's business," Justice Larson wrote.

He said none of the Kansas cases should be extended to find that a duty exists for an employer to learn the detailed history of every employee, "whether criminal or not, and terminate the employment of an individual who is performing acceptable services and is clearly not unfit or incompetent, but who does pose some degree of risk due to previous actions."

"This cases involves a tragic set of circumstances, but if a duty is found to exist here, as a matter of law, the liability of employers is unrealistically increased and the obligations of an employer become virtually unlimited," Justice Larson concluded.

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