Almost six years later, litigation over who is responsible for the death of two victims in Virginia Tech’s April 16, 2007 campus shootings is ongoing.
Yesterday, a panel of justices from the Virginia Supreme Court heard arguments in the appeal on both sides of a civil lawsuit that last year found Tech officials guilty of negligence in the death of two of the victims of the shootings.
In that suit, a jury found the warning that Tech officials had sent out about the possibility of a gunman being on campus was sent too late.
Justices Bernard Goodwyn, LeRoy Millete and Senior Justice Elizabeth Lacy heard 10 minutes of oral argument from each side around 1 p.m. yesterday in Richmond. Each side was also questioned by the three justices.
The results of the hearing will determine whether either or both appeals of the civil case between Tech and the families of the two victims will be heard and decided in full by the state Supreme Court.
The cases were appealed by both sides on separate grounds in October. Lawyers for the parents of shooting victims Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde argue that President Charles Steger should be involved in the case as an individual defendant. Steger had previously been dropped as an individual defendant in 2006 based on a technicality.
Attorneys Steve Emmert and Bob Hall made that case in front of the justices yesterday. If the court agrees with the plaintiff, then the case could be reheard with Steger reinstated as an individual defendant.
The Virginia Attorney General's office appealed on behalf of Tech, arguing that language used in instructing jurors was faulty, and therefore the jury verdict in the initial civil case should be thrown out. Attorney Wes Russell also got the chance to argue that case in front of the three justices yesterday.
“The commonwealth is and remains confident in its position and awaits the judgment of the court,” said Brian Gottstein, director of communication for the Attorney General’s Office in a brief statement made to the Collegiate Times.
The court’s judgment could take up to a few weeks.
The case was originally filed in 2009 and came to trial only last year. In March, Peterson and Pryde's families won the civil suit. The Montgomery County Circuit Court jury found the university responsible, saying officials did not adequately warn students of a foreseeable danger. The jury awarded each family $4 million.
The $4 million award was reduced to $100,000 because the state's Tort Claims Act limits the amount an individual can receive as compensation in a civil suit.
Pryde and Peterson were among the 32 people killed on April 16, 2007. They were killed in Norris Hall, two-and-a-half hours after Seung-Hui Cho killed two students in West Ambler Johnston Hall.
Police believed that the initial two shootings resulted from a domestic incident and that the shooter had fled campus already. Peterson and Pryde's families alleged that Tech officials should have provided a more detailed and timely notice of the West AJ shooting.
The families of the 28 other victims killed in Norris settled with the university in 2008 for $100,000.
The current civil suit is different from an ongoing criminal case being held against the university by the United StatesDepartment of Education. In that case, the university was fined by the DOE for violating a federal law that requires schools to issue a timely warning in the event that the student population may be in danger.
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