Several Virginia legislators are deciding whether the limits on the state’s liability should be increased after the Virginia Tech shootings last April. The $100,000 limit on tort claims against the state has not been raised since 1993, leaving it as one of the most restrictive caps in the United States. After the forty families of the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings filed claims against the state, some legislators thought the issue of reform should be brought up and discussed over the summer. Because the General Assembly would not consider raising the cap until it assembles in January, it would not apply to the families of the Virginia Tech shootings. The effort to study the cap, however, should start a broad debate about Virginia’s protection under sovereign immunity, which implies the government can do no wrong and cannot be sued.
The cap has severely complicated the efforts of Virginia Tech victims to sue the state. Because of this, the families have agreed in principle to accept an $11 million settlement, in exchange for dropping the lawsuits against the state. Under the agreement, the state will still pay $100,000 to the victims and also offer the victims health benefits and other non-monetary assistance, while admitting to doing no wrong. The victims who were injured in the shooting can also receive up to $100,000 based on the severity of the injuries. While trying to avoid the $100,000 cap, the state has sought creative ways to help the families’ needs, such as a $1.75 million hardship fund in which the victims can draw upon in addition to their direct payments. There will also be a $1.75 million fund that the victim’s families can use to donate money to charities.
Many states have made lawsuit caps to shield themselves from lawsuits, however in most states the cap is much higher than in Virginia. Delegate David B. Albo suggests the Tort Claims Act should be permanently indexed with inflation since $100,000 in 1993 is not $100,000 today. Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, on the other hand, is scared to raise the cap since it might get rid of sovereign immunity all together. The Virginia Attorney General says the state does settle for more than $100,000 in cases when it believes the state has been grossly negligent. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/13/AR2008041302553_pf.html