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Virginia top court overturns Virginia Tech wrongful death award

The Supreme Court of Virginia [official website] on Thursday overturned [text, PDF] a jury award against Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) [university website] for two student deaths related resulting from the university shooting on April 16, 2007 [Report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel]. Addressing the separate lawsuits brought [JURIST report] by the estates of Erin Nicole Peterson and Julia Kathleen Pryde, two of the victims in the shooting, the court held that even 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. The suits claimed that the commonwealth was liable for the actions of the commonwealth's employees at the university pursuant to the Virginia Tort Claims Act [text], alleging that a special relationship existed between the commonwealth's employees at Virginia Tech and Peterson and Pryde that gave rise to the commonwealth's duty to warn Peterson and Pryde of third party criminal acts. It also alleged that the commonwealth's failure to warn them was the proximate cause of their deaths and the families' losses. The court, however, found that the commonwealth could not have known or have reasonably foreseen third party criminal acts, as Virginia Tech officials believed that the shooting was a domestic incident and that the shooter may have been the boyfriend of one of the victims.

In 2009 the parents of Pryde and Peterson [Virginia Tech profiles], who were shot and killed by fellow student Seung-Hoi Cho [BBC profile], filed suit against the commonwealth of Virginia, Virginia Tech, the university's Cook Counseling Center [official website], top university officials, and local counseling center New River Valley Community Services [website] for negligence resulting in the death of the two victims. The Virginia Tech shooting left 33 people dead and wounded 25 in the deadliest school shooting in US history. In June, a Virginia judge approved [JURIST report] an $11 million settlement with the families of 24 people who had been killed in the shooting. The settlement awarded each family $100,000 plus medical expenses and provides for meetings with Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and university and police officials. The Pryde and Peterson families did not participate in the settlement agreement.

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