Virginia Tech Challenges $55,000 Fine For Negligence in 2007 Massacre

I have previously criticized Virginia Tech for its well-documented failures in the massacre of its students and faculty in 2007 while commending the actions of individuals like Professor Liviu Librescu who surpassed the school’s negligence with their own selfless heroism. One of the most outrageous aspects of the aftermath of the massacre was the use of ridiculously low liability caps of $100,000 in Virginia to deny recovery of reasonable damages by the families — and avoid full accountability over the school’s negligent conduct. Now the school is challenging a mere $55,000 fine for its negligence — a pittance in terms of the millions that it avoided through liability caps. While the school motto is Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), it views that in strictly non-monetary terms.

Virginia Tech University continues to deny negligence — a task made easier by state law effectively extinguishing claims by family members. The state government’s fine for many borders on insulting — $55,000 in fines to the government after avoiding a likely tens of millions to family members. The state has acknowledged the obvious in how the school was too slow in notifying students, faculty and staff and violated federal law requiring timely warnings when there are safety threats. There is also the failure to act on indicators that shooter Seung Hui Cho was unstable that has been cited by families.

The university will contest the fines before an Education Department administrative judge, Ernest C. Canellos who will decided whether it is appropriate under the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to provide warnings in a timely manner and to report the number of crimes on campus. The hearing will last two or three days — two or three days more in court than most victims received in a torts action.

Obviously, it is not the $55,000 that concerns the school but undermining its ongoing fundraising activities. The school made a windfall in fundraising after the massacre. By 2010, the school had received 90,000 donations. Being publicly found to be partially responsible for the carnage would not foster fundraising under its “We Remember” campaign. After the massacre, the school announced a $1 billion target for donations — a massive amount for a school of this size.

In the end, one can forgive the anger of surviving family members that the school will have days of a hearing before a judge after they were effectively blocked from receiving a full trial on the negligence of the school. I do not believe that the school is primarily responsible for the acts of a madman and I do believe that all schools would have experienced some of these problems. Few school officials would quickly recognize such an unprecedented attack. However, to deny negligence by the school, in my view, is indefensible.

The school will present its case on Wednesday.

Source: Washington Post

FLOG THE BLOG: Have you voted yet for the top legal opinion blog? WE NEED YOUR VOTE! You can vote at HERE by clicking on the “opinion” category.

38 thoughts on “Virginia Tech Challenges $55,000 Fine For Negligence in 2007 Massacre”

  1. mespo727272 1, December 6, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    BIll C:

    What do you make of George W. Bush signing into law the first major gun control legislation in 13 years after the Virginia Tech Massacre?
    “Childruns do learn” …

  2. anon nurse,

    Money it is a gas … jumping Jack … it’s a gas …

    Yeah baby … we are talking addiction.

    When the 99% will all work for “minimum wage”

    Then the 1% will get down to the details where the Devil lies …

    If you know what I mean …

    Thanks for the link. I got STOKED!

  3. re: arming the campus/Bill C POV

    there was/is virtually zero support of this attitude in Blacksburg. Those who have tried to come to town to push this agenda have been dissuaded, ignored and shunned.

  4. “I do not believe that the school is primarily responsible for the acts of a madman and I do believe that all schools would have experienced some of these problems. Few school officials would quickly recognize such an unprecedented attack. However, to deny negligence by the school, in my view, is indefensible. ”


    Given the abundance of troublesome knowledge available on this student and the ball dropping by many in Blacksburg, I would say the University was not the wolf among the sheep but Tech certainly turned a blind eye to his likelihood of harm. Couple that with the almost Keystone Cops approach to handling the campus after an apparent double murder in a dorm, and you’d get my vote for VT’s negigent actions and inactions being deemed “a proximate cause” of the murder and mayhem that ensured. That would be enough for damages in most states but Virginia adheres to the doctrine of sovereign immunity and the inadequate Virginia Tort Claims Act limits victims or their families to just $100,000.00 in compensation for negligently inflicted harm by the State or its agents. In the law, soveriegn immuity is usually stated as “The King Can Do No Wrong.” In the real world, we know better.

  5. Virginia Tech’s board should have been not only sued for negligence but also for wrongful death because of their policy of disarming students, removing the capability of lawful self defense by those lawfully authorized to do so everywhere else but on campus. The mandatory helplessness policy is absolutely abominable and should be rescinded and each person who endorsed it–and continue to do so, no less– should be held personally accountable for it.

  6. They play even harder hard ball on small claims now since they don’t have to mount a million dollar defense on multi-million dollar claims — just pay the caps. Frees up some money to spend for attorneys’ hours on the other claims

  7. Martin,
    I have doubts that caps pull up “smaller” files. The insurance companies still play hard ball on the smaller claims.

  8. OT:

    …even creating new “threats” by their sometimes heavy-handed tactics…, I wrote…

    I have no idea about Mr. Dietz’s group, in particular… I wouldn’t want to say anything untrue about him or his group “TAG”…

    This, however, is true about Park Dietz:


    Dr. Dietz testified that Ms. Yates was psychotic at the time of the murders but knew right from wrong. The latter conclusion meant that she was not insane under Texas’ unusually narrow definition of legal insanity.

    On cross-examination, Dr. Dietz was asked about his work as a consultant on “Law & Order,” a program Ms. Yates, the appeals court said, “was known to watch.” He was asked whether any of the episodes he had worked on concerned “postpartum depression or women’s mental health.”

    “As a matter of fact,” he answered, “there was a show of a woman with postpartum depression who drowned her children in the bathtub and was found insane, and it was aired shortly before the crime occurred.”

    That statement was false: There was no such episode. The falsehood was discovered after the jury convicted Ms. Yates.

    Dr. Dietz, who did not respond to several messages seeking comment yesterday, said at the time that his testimony had been based on a mistaken recollection.

    The trial court denied a defense request for a mistrial, but the jury was told about the false testimony during the sentencing hearing. The jury rejected the death penalty and sentenced Ms. Yates to life in prison.


    Was Park Dietz held accountable? Were there any penalties for his “false” testimony?

  9. Holy shit, the gall at fundraising with one hand for a memorial, while giving the victims’ families the finger with the other hand leads me to utmost respect and appreciation for the greedy fucking lawyers we know advise Virginia Tech.

  10. Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking Fast and Slow, says, regarding award limits, that capping awards “would eliminate all larger awards, but the anchor would also pull up the size of many awards that would otherwise be much smaller. It would almost certainly benefit serious offenders and large firms much more than small ones.”

    Interesting thought, somewhat related to the topic.

  11. I was involved in cleaning up the psychological mess the April 16 shootings left in the the community — The university dished off much of the burden of handling the counseling to the [underfunded] community mental health agency. The school also dodged the responsibility for their part in inadequately following up on contacts they had had with the shooter over time. The university president and all the major officers are still on the job. And the memorial markers are placed out in front of Buriss Hall. I’m not surprised that Tech has such a large stake in the industry created out of tragedy, and cynically continuing to avoid responsibility and burnish their image.

    Money, not academics is the name of the game. Reminds me, after all the child abuse scandals emerging out of the Penn State football disgrace, has anyone asked for a comment or asked a question of Tech’s football coach Frank Beamer? Like, what do you think about all that Frank, what with you presiding over a similar program at a similar school, and no doubt facing similar challenges?

    Anyone asked? Naaah. It’d be impolite doncha know. And besides you don’t expect a cash cow like the football program to ever have to consort with mere mortals and their concerns.

  12. My hunch is that we still don’t know all the facts… and perhaps we never will…

    “…$55,000 in fines to the government after avoiding a likely tens of millions to family members. -Jonathan Turley

    Is there any other recourse for family members? The “fundraising” issue aside, would payment of the $55,000 be an admission of some sort that would allow the families of the victims to pursue some other avenue for recovery of damages?

    (Good morning, AY. )

Comments are closed.