The Supreme Court of Virginia has agreed to hear the state’s complaints about the lawsuits that led to judgments of $100,000 each for two families of Virginia Tech shooting victims. The court refused appeal requests from the families.
The court’s actions on Monday suggest the justices may address whether state college officials have a duty to protect students from criminal acts by third parties. State lawyers had argued the jury instructions approved by Circuit Judge William Alexander were flawed.
Families of shooting victims Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde each won a $4-million jury verdict last year, with the verdicts reduced to $100,000 each under the Virginia Tort Claims Act.
Both sides sought appeals, and a three-justice panel heard arguments Feb. 11. The panel consisted of Justices S. Bernard Goodwyn, LeRoy F. Millette Jr. and Senior Justice Elizabeth B. Lacy, according to the Collegiate Times.
Lawyers for the families had urged the court to review Alexander’s decision to exclude Virginia Tech president Charles Steger as an individual defendant. The families’ petition for appeal was refused Monday.
The state’s assignments of error to be considered by the Supreme Court were posted on the court’s website:
- The circuit court erred in finding that the Commonwealth, Virginia Tech, and/or their employees had a special relationship with Peterson and Pryde that imposed a duty, and therefore, erred in instructing the jury that there was such a duty, in submitting the case to the jury and in entering judgment on the jury’s verdict.
- Even assuming that the Commonwealth, Virginia Tech or their employees had a relevant special relationship under Virginia law, the evidence adduced did not give rise to a duty to warn of third party criminal acts, and therefore, the circuit court erred in submitting the case to the jury and in entering judgment on the jury’s verdict.
- The circuit court erred in finding that there was sufficient evidence regarding causation to raise a jury issue, and therefore, erred in submitting the case to the jury and in entering judgment on the jury’s verdict.
- Even if there were a theory that might have allowed plaintiffs to recover, the circuit court’s instructions (2, 3, 4, 10 & 11) misstated Virginia law regarding the existence of a relevant special relationship, the existence and type of duty purportedly owed, the standard that triggers a duty to warn of third party criminal acts, as well as regarding the reasonable expectation of parents and students at a university, and therefore, the jury’s verdict must be overturned.
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court has granted the Commonwealth’s Petition for Appeal,” said a spokesperson for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Reston attorney Robert T. Hall, who represented the families at trial, declined to comment because he had not yet received official notification of the court’s decision.