(CN) - An Illinois ministry must face a wrongful death claim after an employee sent death threats to his family from work and then went on to kill them, a state appeals court ruled.
Christopher Coleman was convicted of murdering his wife, Sheri and their sons, Garett and Gavin, in their home in Columbia, Ill., on May 5, 2009.
For eight years prior to the murders, Coleman worked as a high-level security employee for Joyce Meyer Ministries Inc., and during that time he sent numerous death threats from its computers to his family and even to himself.
Regions Bank, the administrator of the family's estate, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the ministry.
The estate claimed that Christopher used his work computer to send death threats to his family, JMM and even himself.
According to the estate, the ministry negligently failed to protect the family from threatened harm.
The trial court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the case due to failure to state a claim.
However, the Mt. Vernon-based Fifth District Illinois Court of Appeals partially overturned the decision in a ruling written by Justice Judy Cates.
She noted that the estate alleged the ministry "voluntarily undertook to investigate the source of the death threats directed at the decedents, which were made or received through JMM's electronic communications systems and equipment, and to provide security at the decedents' home for the protection of the decedents; that JMM failed to perform or negligently performed these undertakings; and that JMM's negligent acts or omissions increased the danger to the decedents."
Cates countered the trial judge's argument that the ministry could not have foreseen that Christopher would murder his family.
"There are adequate factual allegations to establish that JMM was aware that specific death threats had been made against the decedents using JMM email communications, and that JMM voluntarily undertook to investigate those threats and to protect the decedents from the threatened harm," Cates wrote, remanding the case for trial.
Cates also ruled that the trial court correctly dismissed the estate's claim of negligent retention, stating that the claim was "unsupported by specific facts."