Va. Justices Asked to Reconsider Tech Reversal
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RICHMOND, Va. — Attorneys for the families of two students slain in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre have asked the state Supreme Court to honor a jury’s findings and reconsider its decision to toss a wrongful death finding against the state stemming from the shootings.
Attorneys for the families of Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde filed a petition for rehearing on the court’s Oct. 31 ruling overturning a negligence finding against the state. They have argued that both young women could have survived the shootings by student Seung-Hui Cho if the campus had been alerted to the first attacks on the Blacksburg campus.
Justices concluded, however, that Tech administrators did not have a duty to warn students that a gunman remained at large after he had killed two people in a dormitory and that they had no way to anticipate his intentions to shoot more people.
The April 16, 2007, attacks left 33 dead, including Cho. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern history.
The court overturned a jury’s verdict reached in March 2012 in Montgomery County, near the Tech campus. Jurors found that the state should have issued more timely campus warnings after Cho shot two in a dormitory. More than two hours later, he chained the doors of Norris Hall and killed 30 more students and faculty in the classroom building before killing himself. Pryde and Peterson were in Norris Hall.
“This court should respect the jury’s finding on these issues,” wrote Robert T. Hall and L. Steven Emmert, attorneys for the Petersons and Prydes.
The jury awarded the families $4 million each. The trial judge later reduced the award to $100,000 each, the state cap on damages.
Virginia Tech administrators, including President Charles Steger, were dismissed from the lawsuit before trial. The state was the lone defendant.
“We think the court already correctly decided the issue, and nothing in the latest filings changes that,” said Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
The state argued that law enforcement officials believed the first shootings were targeted, the result of a domestic dispute, and they concluded the larger campus was not at risk.
The Petersons and the Prydes are the only families of Tech victims who did not join in an $11 million settlement.
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