CHRISTIANBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech President Charles Steger and former Executive Vice President James Hyatt do not qualify for absolute immunity to civil liability claims. This decision, which was rendered by Special Justice William Alexander of Franklin County, means that two $10 million wrongful death lawsuits filed by the families of students slain in the April 16, 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech could go to trial as soon as September.
Virginia state law says that high-ranking government officials are immune from claims of gross negligence. However, Alexander ruled that Steger and Hyatt do not qualify as such. He did express criticism for the law, calling it ambiguous and stating that the pending lawsuits could set legal precedent on the issue, the Roanoke Times reports.
Plaintiffs attorney Bob Hall argued that 75 percent of Steger’s university salary comes from private donations, therefore differentiating him from officials whose salaries are paid by taxpayers.
The families of Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson filed the wrongful death suits on the second anniversary of the shootings. They were the only families not to participate in a state settlement that offered compensation and counseling, as well as other benefits.