A jury found Virginia Tech guilty of negligence for failing to act quickly in alerting the campus that a gunman was on the loose and said the school should pay $4 million each to the families of two victims of the deadly 2007 in which 33 people were killed.
The verdict came in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the families of Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson who were shot to death in a shooting rampage by Seung-Hui Cho, an English major in his senior year of studies.
A seven-member jury agreed with the families that if alerts had been sent out sooner to the Virginia Tech community, the number of casualties could have possibly been significantly lower. Students, faculty, and staff, didn’t receive the first notices about the danger they were in until two hours after violence had already erupted in a campus dormitory. By that time, Cho had already chained the doors of the Norris Hall, where majority of the victims on that day lost their lives.
“We stand by our long-held position that the administration and law enforcement at Virginia Tech did their absolute best with the information available after the dormitory shootings on the morning of April 16, 2007,” said the president of the university, Charles W. Steger. “We do not believe that evidence presented at trial warranted the verdict,” Steger said about the decision.
However, although the university has received an $8 million judgment, the Virginia Tort Claims Act limits compensation to $100,000.
According to the Virginia Tech Review Panel, Cho first opened fire on two students in a dorm room. He then retreated to his own room, where he placed a note explaining his actions, and rearmed himself. After crossing the campus, Cho sprayed four classrooms with bullets, killing 32 before committing suicide.
In addition to the civil suits, the university was found negligent by the Department of Education which found in 2010 that the school failed to comply with the Clery Act, which mandates that universities give “timely warning” in the event of specific campus crimes. Violation of the act carries a maximum fine of $55,000, which was charged to the university in full. Virginia Tech appealed fines related to that case.
Tech Review Panel Report and Timeline of Events.