On the day of the settlement, the Appalachian School of Law issued the following press release:
ASL Court Settlement Announced
Officials of the Appalachian School of Law (ASL) today announced that Hartford Insurance had settled all claims in the lawsuits filed in the aftermath of the tragic shootings at the ASL campus on January 16, 2002. The Honorable Nick Persin, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at ASL, stated, “We note that the full and complete settlement occurred within the limits of the $1,000,000 insurance coverage, that the Appalachian School of Law contributed $27,301.10 to the settlement, and that the defendants expressly deny any and all liability for those shootings.”
Rebecca Claire Brown, Stacey Emilie Beans, Martha Madeline Short and Sue and Danny Dales (co-administrators of the estate of Angela Denise Dales) earlier this year filed four lawsuits seeking more than $23,000,000 in the Wise County Circuit Court. The suits named as defendants, the Appalachian School of Law, President Lu Ellsworth and Professor Dale Rubin. President Ellsworth commented, “This settlement permits all of the parties to this tragic episode to move ahead without protracted and expensive litigation.”
The Appalachian School of Law welcomed the first students in August, 1997 to the Grundy, Virginia Campus. The law school, which is provisionally approved by the American Bar Association, enrolls almost 360 full-time students this year and has 256 alumni in more than two dozen states.
For more information about the Appalachian School of Law, contact Lu Ellsworth, President, at (276) 935-4349 or see www.asl.edu.
December 30, 200
Trying to put the best face on this public embarrassment, the school decided to accent the fact that the suit was filed for $22 million and settled for $1 million. What the school failed to note was that the settlement amount was for the maximum amount of their liability insurance policy—there was no negotiating on that. The Appalachian School of Law is not rolling in cash. They did not have $1 million lying around and decide to settle a nuisance lawsuit.
It is particularly upsetting to read the school’s comment on the settlement; the Appalachian School of Law’s statement ends with a clear recruiting pitch—an attempt to profit from the tragedy.
The statement issued by the attorneys for the Dales’ was released on 30 December 2004:
Students’ Case Against Appalachian School of Law Settles for One Million Dollars
Abingdon, Virginia, attorney, Emmitt F. Yeary, who represents the plaintiffs, Rebecca Brown, Martha Short, Stacey Beans, and Sue and Danny Dales (co-administrators of the Estate of Angela Denise Dales), in their cases against the Appalachian, Lucius Ellsworth and Dale Rubin, announced that their cases had been settled today for $1,000,000. In announcing this settlement, Yeary said:
These cases were settled today after a hearing before Judge Clifford R. Weckstein, Judge of the Circuit Court of the City or Roanoke, Virginia.
Judge Weckstein had been appointed to hear the cases because of the potential conflicts of local Wise County judges where the case was originally filed. The hearing was held before Judge Weckstein to approve the wrongful death portion of the settlement agreement.
In presenting the case before Judge Weckstein, Yeary had also
stated another factor to be considered was how long cases would have taken to present in the courts of Virginia and also the possibility of the bankruptcy of the law school if a greater judgment was obtained against the Law School.
Although denied by the defendants the plaintiffs contended that the defendants were negligent in failing to properly warn the students of the dangers of Peter Odighizuwa who killed two faculty members and one student, Angela Dales, and wounded the other plaintiffs on January 16, 2002.
Yeary stated the fact the Law School was paying $1,000,000 certainly indicates that the Law School and the defendants took these claims seriously and were concerned and realized their potential liability and were not paying this amount out of the goodness of their hearts.
Yeary stated these young women, Rebecca Brown, Martha Short, and Stacey Beans, and Sue and Danny Dales, the mother and father of Angela Dales, have decided to settle their cases against the Appalachian School of Law and the other defendants in the hopes of bringing some closure to the nightmares and sufferings they have been enduring since the massacres and shootings at the Law School on January 16, 2002.
The horrible events that occurred that day in Grundy, Virginia,
were even more tragic because they could and should have been foreseeable, and preventable, if only simple precautions had been taken and the numerous warnings about the danger of the murderer had been heeded by those in charge of the Law School and had they not ignored those glaring warning signs time and time again.
Although the settlement of these cases today may in some small and pitiful way bring some closure for the victims and their families, the horror of the terrible day will never leave them. These young women and the family of Angela Dales, and especially Angela’s ten year old daughter, Rebecca, will be forever be scarred because of the senseless murders and shootings of January 16, 2002.
Unfortunately, no amount of money will ever take away their heartbreak, their headaches, and nightmares that they will continue to haunt them and that they will have to endure and bear for the rest of their lives.
Nor will any money paid to them erase the scarlet stains of blood from the hands of all those who contributed to these terrible tragedies. Nor should the payment of any amount of money in any way ease the conscience of those whose actions and omissions contributed to the shootings of these young women. Nor should it in any way help excuse those who contributed to the death of Angela Dales, and who allowed her to lie on the cold floor at the Law School that day and bleed to death for 45 minutes after her murderer was apprehended.
Today, it is our hope and prayer that the bringing of this case and the suffering of all these victims, will not be in vain, but will be yet another wake up call and warning to all the schools and others to whom we entrust the lives of our children with a reasonable expectation that they will take every reasonable precaution to ensure their safety. Those responsible for the safety and security of our children and our loved ones should never be allowed to blindly close their eyes and tolerate behavior that endangers others, especially where such indifference is a result of greed, naiveté, bigotry or political correctness. They must be made aware that in America if they fail to provide appropriate protection and take proper precautions for our safety they will be held accountable to the full extent of the law no matter who they are or what they are or what their social position or status may be.
The plaintiffs were represented by Abingdon, Virginia, attorney,
Emmitt F. Yeary, Las Vegas, Nevada, attorney, E. Brent Bryson, and Maryland Attorney, Richard L. Gershberg.
Worse Lies Ahead
· Unless the causes behind the events of 16 January 2002 are brought to light and corrected, the sad truth is even worse school shootings may lie ahead. The Virginia Tech rampage is proof of that fact. As for the law school itself and the lessons it learned; their “heightened” security amounted to hiring a night watchman and issuing a proclamation that guns are not allowed on campus. In the wake of the seriousness of the shootings of 16 January 2002, the school’s response has left Angie’s family and me speechless. Correct me if I am wrong, but the shootings took place during the day. A night watchman is hired to protect against theft at night—not to protect lives and safety of the students, staff, and faculty.
· In response to the lawsuits filed against the Appalachian School of Law, its President Lucius Ellsworth, and Professor Dale Rubin, the defendants’ lawyers filed a demurrer. Quoting from the defendant’s own lawyers:
A demurrer tests only the legal sufficiency of the claims stated in the pleading challenged. While a demurrer does not admit the correctness of a pending’s conclusions of the law, it ‘admits the truth of all material facts that are properly pleaded, facts which are implicitly alleged, and facts which may be fairly and justly inferred’ Thus, the sole question to be decided by the trial court is whether the facts thus pleaded, implied, and fairly and justly inferred are legally sufficient to state a cause of action against the defendant.
· I was thunder struck! None of the three defendants were denying the truth of the charges made against them! None of them were denying that they knew Peter Odighizuwa had a history of violence, none denied they had heard staff and faculty call out for protection against him, none in effect denied they had a role in this tragedy. Let me repeat what the demurrer says, “it admits the truth of all material facts that are properly pleaded, facts which are implicitly alleged, facts which may be fairly and justly believed.” Do the defendants admit all the facts brought against them are true?
· What the defendants deny is that these claims reach a level in Virginia law where they can be held accountable in a court of law. The Orwellian reasoning used by the defendants’ attorneys defies description. What is a fact that doesn’t deserve the court’s consideration and certainly does not need to be heard by a jury? Time and time again their words twist and turn in a convoluted distortion of truth, a distortion that is so very, very painful for the victim’s families to read.
· For example, in one demurrer the argument is made that: “The allegations of Odighizuwa’s verbal confrontations with Law School students, faculty, and staff do not logically indicate an imminent probability of harm to the plaintiffs or that Ellsworth knew Odighizuwa was about to criminally assault anyone at the law school. The allegations about his argument with Rubin, shortly before the shootings do not logically indicate that Odighizuwa was about to pull out a pistol and shoot anyone.”
· How do the defendant’s attorneys explain the fact that Odighizuwa was banned from certain school offices because staff members feared for their personal safety? How do these attorneys explain female faculty members asking the school to hire security officers because they were afraid of Peter Odighizuwa? How do the defendants’ lawyers explain Professor Rubin’s public statement that he thought Odighizuwa might punch or hit Sutin?
· I believe almost everyone would describe punching or hitting someone as “violence.” Indeed, the dictionary defines violence as: “exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse.”
· The defense argues that there is no allegation that President Ellsworth knew Odighizuwa possessed a gun or any other weapon. “Thus, the allegations do not establish that Ellsworth was conscious that injury probably would result from his (Odighizuwa’s) conduct…” The defense needs to be reminded that injury does not require a gun or any other weapon. President Ellsworth knew enough about Odighizuwa’s violent behavior that he agreed to banning Odighizuwa from portions of the school grounds. Ellsworth did not know whether or not Odighizuwa had a weapon when he took those precautions. (To be continued)