I have previously written about my view of the clear negligence committed by Virginia Tech University in the 2007 campus massacre as well as the gross unfairness created by a state cap on damages for the families of dead students and faculty. I have also criticized the university’s litigation posture and steadfast denial of such negligence. Now a jury has added its collective voice to this criticism — finding Virginia Tech not only negligent but awarding the families of two Virginia Tech students $4 million each in a duty-to-warn case. However, due to the state’s imposition of a cap, these awards are likely to be reduced to a mere $100,000 each for their dead children. For parents like Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde, the cap must be a terrible insult as the calculation of what the state believes their child is worth in the face of lethal negligence by the school.
Virginia Tech has raised record amounts of contributions in the wake of the massacre despite its own responsibility in the the deaths of 33 individuals. That responsibility has been laid bare by this verdict regardless of the reduction under state law.
What should be the source of outrage is the continued use of this cap, which reduces the lives of teachers and students to a rather minor expense — particularly when measured against the millions raised in fund drives by the university.
I have long been a critic of these caps, which have not been adjusted for decades. I have had to help grieving families and friends, including students, look for lawyers in states with such caps. In one case, a student lost his fiancé to a case of clear negligence by a trucking company. However, no lawyer was prepared to go to trial in the case because they could not recover more than $250,000 — less than what it would cost in trial time and costs. The result is that the company avoided a trial and the true costs of the death of this young woman.
It took only four hours for the jury to find Virginia Tech liable.