Liability for School Shootings
Recently, a 15 year old high school sophomore, fatally shot another student, Sam Strahan and wounded three others at Freeman High School in Rockford, Washington. The shooter brought a handgun and an assault rifle to school in a duffel bag he carried on to the school bus. The assault rifle jammed when he tried to load it. He then pulled out a pistol and shot the 15 year old classmate in the abdomen and in the face. The shooter told police he had been bullied by the boy who died.
The shooter had been suspended for bringing threatening notes to school. The shooting happened on the first day he returned from being suspended. Guns, ammunition, a Molotov cocktail and a school year book with pictures of faces marked with X’s were seized by police from the shooter’s home. Investigators also found a manifesto and a notebook with a list of chemicals.
Freeman High School will likely face a negligence / wrongful death suit similar to one brought against the Marysville School District after a 15 year old freshman shot five students resulting in four fatalities, one critical injury and the shooter’s own death. That case settled this past summer for $18 million. In the Marysville School District case, allegedly a substitute teacher had been told of the possible shooting before it happened and failed to alert school officials. The attorney for the victims said the settlement amount was capped by the school district’s insurance policy and the plaintiffs elected not to pursue amounts that would erode the school district’s general budget designated for educating and protecting students. Whether Freeman High School is negligent for the acts of the shooter depends on whether the acts of the shooter were foreseeable. McKown v. Simon Property Group, Inc., 182 Wn.2d 752, 344 P.3d 661 (2015).
Schools must take precaution and closely monitor threats of violence to avoid or diminish liability. Contact us so that we can advise on what precautions to take should you find yourself concerned.