Sovereign Immunity Will Protect Virginia Tech From Lawsuits

April 18, 2007

When students die on college campuses — whether in suicides or sports accidents or other incidents — grieving parents sometimes respond by accusing the institutions of negligence and filing suit.

But if the families of Virginia Tech students killed in Monday’s shootings try to sue the university, they will run into roadblocks, according to William E. Thro, solicitor general of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Under a legal concept known as sovereign immunity, Virginia law prohibits an individual from suing a state institution like Virginia Tech directly.

Family members of the gunman’s victims could file negligence lawsuits in state court against the commonwealth, but Mr. Thro said they could collect no more than $100,000 each — assuming they prevailed in litigation. He added that they would not be able to sue the state in federal court. —Andrea L. Foster