Tort Law

Top state court says Virginia Tech had no duty to warn students of gunman, nixes jury award

Overturning a jury verdict that originally awarded $4 million each to two families of victims slain in the April 16, 2007 shooting massacre at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the state’s top court held Thursday that the school had no duty to warn students of the danger posed by student gunman Seung-Hui Cho.

“[E]ven if there was a special relationship between the Commonwealth and students of Virginia Tech, under the facts of this case, there was no duty for the Commonwealth to warn students about the potential for criminal acts by third parties,” says the Virginia Supreme Court in a Thursday opinion published by the Washington Post, along with an Associated Press article about the verdict.

After apparently shooting two people in a dormitory around 7 a.m. that morning, Cho went on to shoot dozens more around 9:45 a.m. in Norris Hall, which at that time housed classrooms. The massacre left 33 dead, including Cho, who shot himself in the head, according to authorities, and many others wounded. Virginia Tech officials, who initially said the 7 a.m. incident appeared “domestic,” send an email blast at 9:26 a.m. to the campus community about a shooting being handled by police, following up with a 9:50 a.m. email blast warning students to stay inside and avoid windows because a gunman was loose on campus.

Today’s decision reverses a Montgomery County Circuit Court jury verdict for the parents of Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde. It originally provided $4 million for each family, but the amount was later reduced to $100,000 each because of a cap on damages that can be awarded against the state under Virginia law. An earlier Associated Press article provides details.

Additional and related coverage: “Va. Tech Gets Max $55K Fine for Late Massacre Day Warning; Much More Deserved, Official Says” “Judge Approves $11M Va. Tech Settlement” “Jury Awards $4M Each to Families of Two Slain Va. Tech Students; Awards Likely to Be Capped at $100K” “Will U of Colorado Face Duty-to-Warn Suits re Off-Campus Movie Theater Shooting Spree?”

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