A jury found Virginia Tech University [university website] guilty of negligence on Wednesday for failing to warn students of a gunman on the loose. The verdict comes in a case brought by the parents of two female students who were shot by Seung-Hui Cho [BBC profile] in the 2007 massacre [JURIST news archive]. The parents alleged that their daughters' lives could have been spared [Reuters report] had the University Police not jumped to conclusions about Cho's motivations after the bodies of his first victims were found. The police believed those shootings were the result of a jealous boyfriend and failed to notify students of a gunman on the loose. When they finally did, it was too late and Cho had begun the second phase of his killing-spree that left 32 victims and the gunman dead. The state of Virginia, as well as Virginia Tech officials, have always claimed that they did everything they could, and, based upon the evidence, it was reasonable to conclude that the first incident was isolated. The jury did not agree [AP report] with that defense and awarded the families of Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson $4 million each. That number is expected to drop, because the state of Virginia has a law that caps such awards at $100,000. The lawsuit was initially held up [JURIST report] as the defense asserted an immunity claim that was overruled in November 2010. In 2009 the families of all of the victims were awarded an $11 million settlement, but the Pryde and Peterson families chose to opt out [JURIST report] and pursue their wrongful death action. The state is expected to appeal [AP report] the decision in the next few days.
Virginia Tech has faced several lawsuits over the shooting incident. In June 2008 24 of the 32 victims' families agreed to the $11 million dollar settlement [JURIST report]. The settlement gave each family $100,000 plus medical expenses and provided for meetings with Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and Virginia Tech administration and police officials. Many of the families had considered wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits against the state of Virginia after an independent state panel reported that different school policies could have avoided some of the deaths, but the settlement terms required the families to release their claims. In December 2007 Congress passed by voice vote an act that closes a loophole [JURIST reports] that allowed Cho to purchase firearms despite a court order mandating psychiatric treatment. The Virginia Tech shootings left 33 people dead and 25 wounded in the deadliest shooting incident in US history [WP backgrounder].