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Two top VT officials remain in shootings lawsuit

Virginia Tech president Charles Steger and former Executive Vice-President James Hyatt remain as defendants in the two lawsuits filed by families of students killed in the 2007 shootings at the school.

Also remaining in the case are the former head of the school’s counseling center and two staff members.  Other defendants were dismissed in a ruling today by Franklin County Circuit Judge William Alexander as he decided preliminary defenses including sovereign immunity and absence of duty.

Alexander determined that Steger and Hyatt were entitled to sovereign immunity against ordinary negligence, but he found the allegations of delayed warnings after the initial campus shootings were sufficient to establish gross negligence.  “Plaintiffs have alleged that these defendants knew that criminal assaults had occurred, including one murder, on the university campus, which would indicate a probability of imminent harm to other students or members of the university community,” the judge wrote.

Alexander also allowed claims to go forward against Robert Miller, former director of Tech’s Cook Counseling Center, and two staffers. The lawsuits claim the mental health professionals failed to provide proper services to killer Seung-hui Cho after warnings about his erratic behavior.

Dismissed from the lawsuits are members of Tech’s emergency policy group, other than Steger and Hyatt, and employees of the New River Valley Community Services Board.

Alexander found the emergency policy group members had no authority to issue an alert or warning – only Steger and Hyatt had that authority.  Alexander held the community services board and its officials were protected by sovereign immunity and claims of improper treatment were insufficient to state a case for gross negligence.

By Peter Vieth

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