The parents of Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson say the Supreme Court reinterpreted the jury’s findings.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
The parents of two women slain at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, have asked the state Supreme Court to reconsider its recent decision to overturn a jury finding of negligence against the state.
The plaintiffs in the case — the parents of the late Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde — have filed a petition for rehearing with the high court.
On Halloween, seven of the court’s justices overturned a combined $8 million jury award for the plaintiffs that was handed down by a Montgomery County Circuit Court jury in 2012.
“This Court should respect the jury’s findings on these issues,” the plaintiffs wrote in their rehearing petition.
The seven justices who heard the case originally will do an administrative review of the petition and issue an order at a later date, Deputy Clerk Lesley Smith said Tuesday.
Smith said there is no specific timeline for the court to issue an order on the plaintiffs’ petition.
Tech spokesman Larry Hincker declined to comment on the petition for rehearing. Brian Gottstein, spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The attorney general’s office mounted the defense in the case.
The Montgomery County jury found in 2012 that Tech officials were negligent for failing to warn the campus of a shooter on the loose after a fatal early morning shooting in a dormitory on April 16.
Less than three hours later, the same shooter chained shut the doors of Norris Hall and opened fire in second floor classrooms. An email notification short on details was sent out moments be-fore the second shooting began.
In all, 33 people — including shooter Seung-Hui Cho and Peterson and Pryde — died. More than a dozen other people were injured.
The tragedy is still considered the highest-casualty school shooting in U.S. history.
The jury award was reduced last year by the lower court to a combined $200,000 award under a Virginia law that caps damages against the state.
But the state appealed the lower court ruling, asking the state Supreme Court to overturn the jury verdict. The appeal alleged that the presiding judge in the case made a handful of erroneous rulings during the trial.
The Supreme Court found in favor of the defense, saying that Tech officials had no duty under Virginia law to warn Peterson and Pryde of potential third-party criminal acts.
According to the plaintiffs’ petition for rehearing, the justices ignored a legal standard requiring them to view the “evidence and all reasonable inferences flowing therefrom … in the light most favorable to the prevailing party.”
“Only by discarding venerable principles of appellate review can the Court conclude that administrators justifiably felt that there was no danger after the initial shootings,” the petition stated.
“Where a jury resolves disputed facts, this Court should, and must, stand aside and respect those findings.”
Instead, the petition argues, the justices “viewed the evidence in a light most favorable to the party who lost at trial, and based on that flawed view of the evidence, has reached the mistaken conclusion.”