FedSoc Blog

Va. Supreme Court Overturns Verdict in Wrongful Death Suit Against Virginia Tech


by Publius
Posted November 01, 2013, 3:55 PM

The Washington Post reports:

The Virginia Supreme Court overturned a jury verdict in a wrongful-death suit brought by the parents of two students who were killed in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, delivering fresh pain to the victims’ families and a sense of relief to school and state officials.

In a unanimous decision released Thursday, the justices wrote that “there was no duty for the commonwealth to warn students about the potential for criminal acts” by student-gunman Seung Hui Cho after he shot two students in a dormitory. Nearly 2 ½ hours later, Cho chained the doors at Norris Hall and shot at least 47 people in 11 minutes before killing himself.

Jurors in Montgomery County Circuit Court ruled last year that the state was negligent in the deaths of Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson, two of the 32 people killed by Cho on the Blacksburg campus. The jury panel awarded the parents of Pryde and Peterson $4 million each, although the court later reduced the amount to $100,000 per family.

Harry Pryde, whose daughter Julia was killed in her advanced hydrology class on the second floor of Norris Hall, said the families were “deeply saddened that the court was so dismissive of assigning responsibility and was so protective of the commonwealth.”

The lawsuit was about accountability, not money, Pryde said in a telephone interview, “and we still take a good measure of satisfaction that the jury listened to all of the evidence and decided as it did. We don’t feel at all that the Supreme Court can take that away from us.”

Virginia Tech and the state maintained all along that campus officials and police had acted appropriately, given what they knew at the time.

While expressing sympathy for the victims of the massacre, “the Virginia Supreme Court has found what we have said all along to be true: The commonwealth and its officials at Virginia Tech were not negligent on April 16, 2007,” said Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, in a written statement. “Cho was the lone person responsible for this tragedy.”

After Cho’s rampage — one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history — most of the victims’ families accepted a settlement that prohibited them from suing the university or the state. The Petersons and Prydes refused, instead pursuing a lawsuit because, they said, they wanted to get to truths they suspected officials were withholding. . . .

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