Officials like those at Virginia Tech who are being sued because of the mass shootings at the school could have their claims of sovereign immunity heard by the state Supreme Court before trial under a bill proposed in the Senate.
The bill could affect the ongoing Virginia Tech lawsuits, in which two families are suing top university officials for $10 million over the deaths of their relatives during the 2007 rampage that killed 32 students and faculty.
A judge has rejected school officials’ claims that they are protected from the lawsuits by sovereign immunity — a doctrine rooted in a monarchical tradition that allowed grievances against the king only with his permission.
Senator Bill Stanley said it makes sense — and could save time and money.
Stanley, a Republican who won his seat in a special election this month, filed the bill at the request of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, whose office represents the state and its employees
Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein said the attorney general asked for the legislation to bring Virginia in line with the federal courts.
“One of the core purposes of sovereign immunity is to protect the public purse by allowing the commonwealth to avoid the costs of trial for matters where the claim is barred by sovereign immunity,” Gottstein said. “As the federal courts have noted, this purpose is frustrated if the commonwealth is forced to trial only to later have the appellate court find that the trial never should have occurred in the first place.”
Gottstein said the Virginia Tech case is a good example of the problem, but that the attorney general asked for the legislation “to deal with a more general problem.”
Lori Haas, whose daughter survived being shot at Tech, said she feared the legislation would have an affect on the Tech lawsuits.
“I am not a lawyer, but in what court system in this county does the appeal come before the trial and the presentation of evidence?” Haas said.
Haas said she feels the state is trying to avoid a trial. For the families, she said, the case could provide long sought-after information about what happened that morning.