Virginia Tech massacre is offering $100,000 to each of the 32 families of victims killed in the 2007 shooting rampage of Seung-Hui Cho. The offer is a relatively low given the strong case of negligence by the University and the higher averages for wrongful death awards.
The university appears to premise the offer only on the acceptance of a significant number of families. Thus, if many decline, the offer could be taken off the table. There is ample reason to decline. The negligence of the University can be found on various levels from failing to properly deal with a clearly unstable student to failing to warn the campus of the first two shootings to a negligence in the response to the on-going massacre.
Virginia would not be able to block any litigation with immunity claims. Moreover, while criminal acts of third parties often cut off tort liability, some criminal acts are treated as foreseeable and actionable. Even landlords in cases like Kline v. 1500 Massachusetts Avenue Apartment Corp., 439 F.2d 477, 482 (DC Cir. 1970) have been held liable for such foreseeable dangers. In cases like Tarasoff v. Regents of University of California, a university was found liable to the family of a third party killed by a patient under the treatment of one of its psychologists.
While the deal would create a fund for medical, psychological and psychiatric care for victims and their immediate families (if not covered by insurance), it is not particularly generous given what these families could expect in court. The number appears to be a low-ball calculation that takes out one-third contingency fees for lawyers and other costs. However, the average wrongful death award is between $500,000 and $800,000 in many states. Metro Verdicts Monthly issued a report that showed the following averages: Maryland ($900,000), Virginia ($750,000), Washington, D.C. ($665,700), Florida ($1,257,386); New York ($1,100,000); Pennsylvania ($1,000,000); Ohio ($850,000); Indiana ($750,000); Missouri ($694,000); North Carolina ($500,000). Click here.
Even less appealing victims have recovered more like the 2003 Virginia settlement of $350,000 for the family of an inmate killed after a stun gun was used on him at the Wallens Ridge supermax prison.
Obviously, there is no guarantee of any recovery or any damages reaching these levels. However, the Virginia Tech offer is far below such averages. However, there are risks on the other side for Virginia Tech. Discovery and a trial would likely be grueling, expensive, and embarrassing. There is also the unknown of punitive damages.
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