The North Carolina Court of Appeals has dismissed a lawsuit filed against a domestic violence shelter by the family of a woman who was murdered by her deranged husband at the facility.
Woody Woodring broke into the REACH shelter in Sylva in September 2007 and shot his wife Bonnie Lynn Woodring, who was staying at the shelter with her son.
Mr. Woodring first took Ms. Woodring outside the shelter and beat her, then brought her back inside the shelter and killed her. After eluding authorities for several weeks, Mr. Woodring was found dead on a houseboat on Fontana Lake.
Ms. Woodring’s family filed a lawsuit against the shelter charging that REACH failed to provide “adequate security, control, policies and procedures, measures and/or equipment” to protect the permises.
A trial court dimissed the suit against REACH, but Ms. Woodring’s family appealed.
The Court of Appeals last month also ruled in favor of REACH, saying the shelter had no way of foreseeing that Mr. Woodring would break into the shelter and kill his wife. The plaintiffs have now petitioned to the N.C. Supreme Court for a review, according to the attorney for REACH, David Moore of Sylva. Moore said the
Court of Appeal's dismissing the lawsuit is a "huge vindication."
The plaintiff’s argued, however, that the shelter was negligent in the death because Mr. Woodring accessed the shelter through an unlocked door. The Court of Appeals disagreed.
The court made its ruling on the basis of “independent intervening cause,” meaning that the shelter is not responsible for nor could it predict the criminal acts of Mr. Woodring.
The shelter had no control over Mr. Woodring’s actions, which included breaking into a neighbor’s home and stealing a shotgun, evading law enforcement on arrest warrants, breaking into the shelter, kidnapping a shelter employee, threatening an employee with a shotgun, taking Mrs. Woodring hostage and killing her, the ruling states.
According to REACH, Mrs. Woodring received a copy of the shelter handbook that stated, “You will need to assist staff in determining how dangerous your abuser may be. If you are in danger it will be in the best interest of you, your children and other residents and staff to be placed in a shelter in another county.”
Mrs. Woodring never advised shelter employees that she needed to be transferred to a shelter in another county, according to court documents.
In its 30 years, REACH has never had an abuser come on the property prior to this incident, according to REACH.
The plaintiffs argued that Mrs. Woodring’s husband attempted to murder her in the past and that upon re-entry into the REACH shelter Mrs. Woodring expressed concern about her husband finding her.