Virginia Tech School Shooting Case: Negligence by School – Aronberg & Aronberg

Virginia Tech School Shooting Case: Negligence by School – Aronberg & Aronberg

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Negligence is an important factor of personal injury.  But what is it?  We hear about it a lot with many different kinds of incidents: negligence by a boat captain who didn’t realize that the water was too rough to go out, negligence by a doctor who didn’t run comprehensive tests, or negligence by a driver who didn’t realize that the car in front of him had come to a stop at a red light.

All of those are examples of negligence directly related to the tort being committed—that is, all of the examples encompass instances during which the tortfeasor, the wrongdoer, acted in a negligent manner.  But what about other people surrounding the incidents acting in a negligent manner?  Well, the world of civil law may have an entirely new perspective following a crucial, landmark case, and a powerful verdict delivered by a jury this past week.

Take yourself back to April 16th, 2007.  The day marked by symbols of Virginia Tech and sympathetic declarations such as “We Are All Hokies.”  On that tragic day, a shooter on the Virginia Tech campus shot and killed 33 individuals, making it one of the deadliest mass shootings in the modern history of this country.  In the years that have passed, the parents of two students killed in the rampage filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school, claiming that school officials acted in a negligent manner in waiting to alert students of the presence of a shooter on campus.  The plaintiffs and their attorneys contended that had the university acted in an expedient manner when alerting students, lives could have been saved.

According to the details of the lawsuit, school officials broadcasted an email message containing the warning “gunman is loose on campus” to nearly 37,000 students, staff, and faculty members at 9:50 A.M. on the morning of the shooting.  The timing was too late, according to the claimants, given that the email wasn’t sent out until nearly ten minutes after the gunman had killed his first victim.  The delay made it more difficult for students to escape death given their chances at an impromptu, rushed exit.

Following the shooting, a state panel which was assigned to investigate the incident at Virginia Tech in great length determined that the school committed an error in not alerting students more quickly to the massacre that was taking place on their campus.  As a result of the panel’s findings, Virginia Tech was issued a $55,000 fine from the United States Department of Transportation.

In 2008, Virginia Tech settled with 24 families for $11,000,000, though the two families in this lawsuit opted out of their share.  As a result, and as a result of the Jury’s 3.5 hour deliberations, $4 million as awarded to each of the families of the two dead students in this specific lawsuit.  This verdict may be cut down quite considerably, given that Virginia caps damages at $100,000,  leaving $3,900,000 vulnerable to depletion.

Should the state only shell out $100,000 to the victims’ families?  What kind of message does that send?  That the lost life was only worth $100,000?  Safety must be made a crucial issue.  Apparently not enough is being done to prevent school shootings, given that another deadly shooting occurred in late 2011 at the same university.

For more information about the legal issues surrounding school shooting issues, or any other matter, please contact the Law Offices of Aronberg & Aronberg at 561-266-9191 or email us at daronberg@build.simple.biz.