Case Highlights: Civil Rights, Wrongful Death, Personal Injury

Virginia Tech University

In re April 16, 2007 Massacre at Virginia Tech University.

The Firm participated in the representation of 20 families who suffered devastating losses as a result of the massacre of students and faculty on the campus of Virginia Tech. Numerous clients lost loved ones, while others suffered severe and permanent injuries as a result of violent gunshot wounds. While Virginia Tech was widely praised (by its own officials and from many outside sources) for its handling of the events leading to and following the tragedy, our investigation revealed substantial evidence demonstrating the University's potential liability for gross negligence. That evidence included the disclosure of e-mails from University personnel confirming that certain buildings had gone into lockdown following the murders in West Ambler Johnston and prior to the onset of the larger massacre at Norris Hall, and that University personnel had been warned to stay off campus before Cho opened fire at Norris Hall. As well, the evidence revealed that the University Policy Group revised the e-mail correspondence ultimately sent out at 9:26 a.m., removing references to the facts that one student had died and another was in critical condition at an area hospital as a result of gunshot wounds suffered in a dormitory room. As a result of the delay in sending this e-mail or any other warning, and the revision of its content that rendered it ineffective and misleading, students and faculty never received timely, accurate, deserved warnings about the actual danger on campus. As a result, many left their apartments and dormitory rooms (positions of safety), and (unlike certain University personnel) walked straight into harms way oblivious of the dangers and need to protect themselves. Following negotiations with the most senior legal representatives for the Commonwealth of Virginia and University, an historic settlement valued in excess of $11 Million was reached, which was made available to all victims of the tragedy and, ultimately, accepted by nearly all victims or their representatives. Among the terms, seriously injured victims will receive substantial compensation in addition to health care insurance and other benefits for the rest of their lives. Families who lost loved ones will receive substantial compensation and other benefits, although Virginia law regarding sovereign immunity unfairly reduced the amount of funds that should have been available to compensate all of the victims for their unprecedented hardship and loss. 

District of Columbia

District of Columbia: The Firm obtained a $98 million jury verdict in a federal civil rights, local wrongful death/survival action in D.C. federal court (pending; post-appeal), arising from murder of a citizen assisting police defendants in undercover operation. The firm is presently engaged in challenging the reduction of the jury's compensatory award for decedent's claims. An appellate court ruled that the "state created danger" theory upon which portions of the jury verdict were based was valid in District of Columbia, but only for future cases. Butera v. District of Columbia, et al.

Loudoun County, Virginia

Loudoun County, Virginia: In a case that seized national attention for its implications regarding employer liability, we obtained a $2 Million verdict on behalf of the surviving family of 15 year-old Naeun Yoon. Ms. Yoon was killed while walking on the shoulder of a road by an attorney who was driving erratically while conducting business on her handheld cellular telephone. We filed suit against both the attorney and her employer (based upon vicarious liability and direct negligence). As a result of the filing of this case, employers around the country have implemented strict policies forbidding the use by employees of handheld cellular phones while driving. Articles about this case have already appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Law Journal, and Business Insurance Magazine, as well as on several television programs. Yoon v. Wagner et al.

Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado: The Firm represented Columbine High School teacher David Sanders in a federal civil rights action against police authorities and individuals. Our complaint, filed in federal court in Colorado, alleged deprivation of constitutional rights under a variety of federal claims based on affirmative police action preventing, for several hours after shooters had died, emergency assistance, rescue or medical aid of an individual in a readily-accessible location known to be critically wounded. The case was featured on the television program 60 Minutes II, on CBS, April 17, 2001.  The Firm obtained a $1.5 million settlement on behalf of Dave Sanders’ family. Sanders v. The Board of County Commissioners of the County of Jefferson, Colorado, et al.

Denver, Colorado: The Firm represented the family of Peyton Stephanie Tuthill, a 24 year-old graduate student who was brutally raped and murdered by a repeated violent convicted felon illegally sent to a halfway house in Denver, Colorado, by the State of Maryland.  The Firm successfully settled the case against the halfway house, and subsequently pursued the State of Maryland as a defendant in Denver District Court.  This case has been the impetus for widespread amendments to the Uniform Out-of-State Parolee Supervision Act ("Interstate Compact"). Recently the State of Maryland agreed to settle the case for $700,000.00; the total (confidential) settlement amount well exceeded $1 million.

  • The Firm obtained a settlement providing for pay-out, over time, of up to $26 million (maximum) in a case arising from severe permanent injuries, by hanging, during the improper post-arrest detention of plaintiff. Plaintiff was known to be suicidal yet deprived of prescribed medication. The Firm was referred the case (after its initiation in New Jersey state court) based on our experience, specifically our extensive experience in federal civil rights litigation. The Firm's detailed expansion of claims in amended complaint after taking over the case, coupled with the aggressive deposition of officials from several municipalities and detention facilities, brought about the structured settlement.

  • The Firm obtained a $1.2 million pre-deposition settlement in a civil rights/wrongful death action against Virginia officials for the death of a juvenile mentally-deficient detainee at a state youth detention center. The juvenile died after being choked by guards during a purported restraining effort; defendants settled the case notwithstanding insistence that death was "accidental."

  • The Firm obtained a $1.8 million settlement on behalf of the family of a forty-one year old woman killed by an appliance delivery truck.

  • The Firm obtained a $750,000.00 pretrial settlement on behalf of a 19 year old Fairfax County, Virginia girl who was seriously injured when she was ejected from a pickup truck driven by her high school classmate. She suffered serious and permanent degloving injuries to her dominant arm, necessitating multiple surgeries.

  • The Firm obtained a $750,000.00 policy-limits settlement on behalf of a group of four graduate students who were injured in Las Vegas, Nevada, when a tractor-trailer truck illegally attempted to change lanes, driving their car off of the highway, when it flipped and two of the passengers were ejected . The case settled without any lawsuit having to be filed.

  • The Firm obtained a $550,000.00 federal jury verdict against the District of Columbia, on behalf of a young boy who was sexually assaulted while attending an overnight camp in Maryland, owned and operated by the District of Columbia.