Virginia Supreme Court Overturns Jury Verdict in Virginia Tech Civil Suit

by J.D. Garrett on November 7, 2013

VaTechWhen the end of a serious and brutal attack is the death of the assailant, often no one is left to face criminal charges. With a sense of injustice lurking in the hearts of victims and their communities, sometimes parties will commence civil lawsuits against other entities or people whom they deem to be responsible. For example, in a homicide case where the victims were students at a school, their families may believe that the school had a heightened duty to keep them safe, or warn them of danger. Such is the case in the aftermath of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.

Virginia’s Supreme Court overturned 2012 jury decision that the state university Virginia Tech was liable for negligence in relation to the April 16, 2007 shooting that occurred on that campus. The original lawsuit was brought by the families of two of the 32 people that were killed by fellow Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho, Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson.

At trial, the Montgomery County court had found that because Ms. Pryde and Ms. Petersen were students at the school, they had a special relationship to it such that they were business invitees. Those who invite a business invitee onto their property or campus have a heightened duty to those invitees. Ultimately, the jury found that Virginia Tech had been negligent in failing to warn students about the mass shooting on the campus and was therefore liable for wrongful death of the two students. The jury awarded Ms. Pryde and Ms. Petersen’s families four million dollars each, which was reduced by the trial court to $100,000 based laws regarding damages caps when it comes to state defendants.

Virginia Supreme Court

This week the Virginia Supreme Court handed down its ruling on the case. The Virginia Supreme Court, which is the highest court in Virginia, held that even if Ms. Pryde and Ms. Petersen were business invitees of the school, the state was not liable for not warning them, or for being slow to warn them, of criminal acts being committed by a third party.

<p”>While the Virginia Supreme Court’s decision may be a blow to the two victim’s families, representatives of the university stated that they were glad that the Court recognized the trial court’s errors in interpreting Virginia law. The university also noted that the Court’s decision did not reverse the fact that the two students were victims of a horrible crime, and that the true cause of the families’ heartbreak was the shooter himself.

The Virginia Tech shooting and the civil case that resulted demonstrate the complexities of the criminal and civil justice systems and how they can sometimes intertwine. In some cases, victims or their families will commence a civil lawsuit against the offender for damages, if he or she is still alive.

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