Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Virgina Taxpayers Made To Pay For Criminal's Rampage

Remember when Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho went on a murderous rampage and killed 32 innocent students and staff back in April of 2007?

The miscreant went on to video tape a confession, which he then mailed it to NBC. Finally, Cho saved the commonwealth the expense of a trial (and endless appeals) by blowing his own brains out.

Now it seems as though the people of Virginia are about to be made to pay for this man's monster's crime after all
A proposed multimillion-dollar settlement by Virginia to head off lawsuits over the Virginia Tech mass shooting offers $100,000 to each of the families of those killed; payment and insurance for medical and counseling expenses for families and surviving victims; and repeated opportunities to question the governor and university officials, in person, about the tragedy and its aftermath.

The mediated agreement isn't pleasing everyone, though.

"My people are pretty unhappy with it, and I don't blame them," said Edward Jazlowiecki, one of the lawyers representing the family of Henry Lee, a sophomore from Roanoke who was among the 32 students and professors killed by gunman Seung-Hui Cho in the April 16, 2007, attacks.

Like other families, Jazlowiecki's clients fault Virginia Tech for not better warning or protecting students after the first two students were killed.

"One hundred thousand dollars for a human life is an insult, an absolute insult," Jazlowiecki said.

It's also Virginia's legal maximum when suing the state in cases of simple negligence, as opposed to gross negligence or willful misconduct. Juries could be asked to determine which, if any, of these standards applies to the Virginia Tech tragedy if any families decide to sue.

Families and victims already have received payments ranging from $11,500 to $208,000 from the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, created from more than $8 million in donations that poured in for victims and the Blacksburg school after the shootings. Some recipients used part or all of the money to endow memorial scholarships.

The proposed state settlement is still being negotiated and revised, participants said. According to a copy obtained by The Virginian-Pilot and dated March 14, families have until Monday to decide whether to participate. If they do, they agree not to sue the state - including Virginia Tech - the town of Blacksburg, Montgomery County or the local New River Valley Community Services Board, which provides mental-health services.

Roger O'Dell of Roanoke, whose son, Derek, was wounded, said families were asked not to discuss the settlement negotiations. He added that his son has made no decision - he doesn't want to become adversarial toward the school that he loves, but he has been told his lifetime counseling costs could range from $125,000 to $500,000, plus higher health-insurance costs because of his pre-existing conditions.

Post-traumatic stress disorder "could flare up at any time and could be disabling without regular treatment," Roger O'Dell said. "He'll have constant reminders because he'll have the bullet holes."

The proposal seeks to have all agreements signed by April 15 - one day before the first anniversary of the shooting rampage in which disturbed senior Cho killed two students in a dorm and 30 more in Norris Hall classrooms, wounded or injured another 27, and then killed himself.

The proposal also states that "(p)articipation by nearly all claimants is necessary. The Commonwealth may withdraw the proposal if there is insufficient agreement for settling claims on these terms."

Among the terms:

- A Direct Payment Fund that, in addition to paying $100,000 each to representatives of the 32 deceased victims, would provide a total of $800,000 for the injured, with a maximum of $100,000 to any individual.

- A Special Damages Fund to reimburse or advance expenses for medical, psychological and psychiatric care for victims and immediate families that is not covered by insurance.

- An attempt to provide to "seriously injured victims" state employee health insurance at employee rates, which would require changes to the state budget and possibly state law. If that is impossible, negotiations would continue over ways to provide coverage.

- Attempts to provide free or reduced-fee treatment through the University of Virginia or Virginia Commonwealth University health systems, with fees covered by the Special Damages Fund.

- A two-pronged, state-administered $3.5 million Public Purpose Fund. Half of the money would be for charitable purposes, such as campus safety and related grants or remembrance activities, decided on by a board of victims, family members and state officials. The other half would be for payments to victims and family members suffering "severe hardship, injury or loss" from the shootings. A neutral party would evaluate requests, and payments to any individual would be capped at 7.5 percent of the hardship fund. Money left over from the Direct Payment Fund also would go into the Public Purpose Fund.

- The Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, scheduled to close this past December, would remain open for at least five years for new contributions to its scholarship fund.

- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine would meet personally with victims and family members three more times in the next two years before he leaves office to review legislative and administrative actions taken in response to the shootings and other family concerns.

- Within six months of the settlement, victims and families would meet with senior Virginia Tech officials, including President Charles Steger and police Chief Wendell Flinchum, for an overview of campus changes, to ask questions, and to weigh in on April 16 remembrance activities. Also within that time, Flinchum and Virginia State Police would update victims and families on the shooting investigation and answer questions.

- Families would be able to contribute to and review contents of an electronic document archive relating to April 16.
And, of course, there are some lawyers who are angling to get rich on the crime:
Lawyers from the Washington firm of Bode & Grenier, representing 20 families, would receive $750,000 in fees plus $50,000 for expenses. Others who had filed notices on behalf of families would receive $25,000.

Several of them, as well as a lawyer in the governor's office overseeing the mediation, either declined to comment or didn't return phone calls Monday.
Why on Earth should the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia be made to pay a single penny because of the criminal behavior of anyone, much less that of Seung-Hui Cho?

This is yet another instance of what we see is a disturbing trend in America: Whenever bad things happen to people, someone else is made to pay, even when so doing makes no sense whatsoever.

And just guessing, I'd say that the situation won't improve, but just get worse.

Whatever happened to that rugged American individualism as well as the ideal that an individual should be held accountable for his or her actions?

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