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VA Tech disagrees with jury decision to award families $4 million in wrongful death suit

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Posted at 8:53 PM, Mar 15, 2012
and last updated 2012-03-16 16:38:50-04

The decision was a stunner. Rarely do lawsuits against the state get to trial, and more rare are verdicts like the one made in the Virginia Tech case on Wednesday.

A jury in Virginia Tech's backyard said the university did not do enough to protect students after a crazed gunman shot two people, left campus, and then returned to kill 30 more.

Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was wounded in the shooting, testified at the trial. She told our sister station WTVR that she and other families have long tried to hold the university responsible.

“It's about accountability and getting the truth out. What exactly happened that morning, what they were doing and why weren't they doing anything else,” says Haas.

The question now, is what happens next.

The jury awarded $4 million to each of the two families. However, state law generally limits awards like this to $100,000. Tech's defense lawyers have asked the judge to cut the dollar amount.

Virginia Tech can appeal, but it's not a general appeal like you see in criminal court cases. Tech lawyers must convince judges that a legal mistake was made in the trial, a mistake that affected the jury's decision.

That appeal could be based on something called in legal terms, a special relationship. The judge told the jury Tech had a special relationship with its students that required the university to keep them safe. But Tech's lawyers argued they did not have that obligation.

To take this case to trial, the families of Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson turned down the settlement that twenty-four other families accepted. Those families split $11 million, and gave up their right to sue. This was the last of the lawsuits over the campus massacre.