Lawsuits Over Appalachian School of Law Shootings Settled

Dara McLeod, Virginia Lawyers Weekly, Jan. 10

The family of a student slain during the 2002 shootings at the Appalachian School of Law and three other victims have settled their claims against the school for $1,000,000.

Plaintiffs Rebecca C. Brown, Martha M. Short, Stacey E. Beans and Danny and Sue Dales, co-administrators of the estate of Angela D. Dales, who died in the shooting, had filed four lawsuits against the school seeking a total of approximately $23,000,000.

The plaintiffs had alleged that the school had been negligent in failing to properly warn students of the danger posed by Peter Odighizuwa, a student at the school who went on a shooting spree shortly after being asked to withdraw due to his poor academic performance.

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According to allegations made by the plaintiffs in court papers, Odighizuwa had a history of poor academic performance and “dangerous and irrational” behavior both in and out of school, including a domestic assault charge. They also alleged the school received several reports of threats and verbal assaults by Odighizuwa toward employees and staff.

According to court papers filed by the plaintiffs, Odighizuwa had met with law school Dean L. Anthony Sutin and other professors approximately two days before the shooting regarding his unsatisfactory academic performance, and he was told he could “withdraw” voluntarily, as he had previously been allowed to do, after which he had re-enrolled.

The plaintiffs alleged that Odighizuwa returned to the school the next day, where he engaged in a “loud and heated argument” with Professor Dale Rubin, one of the named defendants, and later went down the hall and shot law professor Thomas F. Blackwell in his office, and then shot Sutin in his office, before going on to the first floor of the law school and fatally shooting Angela Dales and wounding three other female students.

Odighizuwa pleaded guilty last February to three counts of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder, and six counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants had knowledge of numerous warning signs exhibited by Odighizuwa, including “numerous incidents of irrational, paranoid, bizarre, psychotic, crazy and violent behavior toward the staff, administration, and students” of the school, but had repeatedly ignored those warning signs and dismissed safety concerns raised by others. They also alleged that the school and the other defendants failed to properly warn others of the danger posed by Odighuzuwa, or take appropriate disciplinary or security measures.

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