As the wrongful death lawsuits over the Virginia Tech shootings enter their second week, it is important to examine the reason why these lawsuits are being pursued. It is not, as might be supposed, for the money. The families of two women killed in the 2007 shootings are seeking $100,000 each for the deaths, but if they had wanted the money they could have gotten it from a settlement that had been agreed to in 2008. That settlement included $100,000 for each victim’s family and up to that amount for each shooting victim injured in the April 16 shootings. So if the families are not going to receive any additional money, why should they not simply take a settlement? Why, instead, should they pursue an action that is taking another four years to resolve, and may result in less compensation?
Part of the answer is that until last month, the plaintiffs were seeking $10 million, but when a judge dismissed action against the last individual defendant, the lawsuit changed from a wrongful death lawsuit into what is technically described as a tort claim against the state, which incurs the $100,000 damage cap. Putting aside the fact that this cap is ridiculously low compensation for the loss of a loved one, we might ask why continue to pursue the case at this point?
The answer goes to the heart of why people file wrongful death lawsuits. Although compensation for monetary losses does have its place, many wrongful death lawsuits are filed in an attempt to get compensation for the painful, noneconomic losses associated with a loved one’s death. This compensation comes in a number of forms. Part of it is the crude accounting for noneconomic damages—which in Ohio wrongful death law include mental anguish and loss of companionship—but the decision itself is something of a compensation. The court decision stating that a person or organization is responsible for a loved one’s death provides a measure of comfort, an at least partial answer to the existential “Why?” every person asks when attempting to cope with an irreconcilable loss.
In the Virginia Tech lawsuits, the parents have codified this motivation by adding an additional request to the monetary damages they seek. The parents request a full account of the events at Virginia Tech, one that corrects errors and omissions in the official account released the night of the shooting.
But the parents have repeatedly stated their desire for something else: a simple apology from Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, something which he refuses to do. Could an apology have stopped the trial before it began? Perhaps more explicit protection for apologies, such as that afforded to doctors, could help.
No matter your rationale for filing a wrongful death lawsuit, the Columbus, Ohio personal injury lawyers at Robert W. Kerpsack, CO, LPA can help. Please contact us today for a free evaluation of the legal rights and options in your case.
UPDATE: On March 14, 2012, a jury found Virginia Tech negligent due to the delayed warning. The jury awarded the two families a total of $8 million in its verdict. The award is likely to be reduced to $200,000 to be divided between the two families because of the state’s damage cap.