A Virginia judge has ruled in favor of a teacher, Abby Zwerner, allowing her to proceed with a $40 million lawsuit against the Newport News Public Schools after being shot by her six-year-old student. The decision by Newport News Circuit Court Judge Matthew Hoffman defies attempts by the school system to block the lawsuit, claiming Zwerner was eligible only for workers’ compensation.
The judge’s surprising ruling indicated that Zwerner’s injuries did not fall within the exclusive provisions of workers’ compensation coverage as her injuries did not arise directly from her employment. He emphasized that the danger of being shot by a student is not specific to the job of a first-grade teacher, thereby supporting Zwerner’s eligibility to pursue the lawsuit.
Zwerner suffered severe injuries, enduring multiple surgeries after being shot in the hand and chest by the young student. Allegations made by Zwerner suggest that the school administrators had dismissed prior warnings about the student’s possession of a gun and concerning behavioral issues.
Her attorneys, Diane Toscano, Jeffrey Breit, and Kevin Biniazan, expressed their satisfaction with the court’s decision as a stepping stone toward justice for Zwerner. They highlighted the unexpected and traumatic nature of the incident, emphasizing that no teacher anticipates facing a firearm in the hands of a young student.
The school board plans to appeal the decision, contending that the injuries were directly related to Zwerner’s job and, therefore, fall under workers’ compensation coverage. Legal experts initially anticipated the lawsuit to fail under Virginia’s strict workers’ compensation law, but this recent ruling has opened up the possibility for Zwerner to seek further redress through the civil lawsuit.
The incident occurred in January when the young student shot Zwerner in her classroom. Zwerner’s lawsuit alleges negligence on the part of the school officials for disregarding prior warnings about the student’s possession of a firearm and his violent behavior.
The ongoing legal battle underscores the intricacies of workers’ compensation laws and the debate over whether this particular incident falls within the scope of employment-related injuries. While the judge’s decision opens the path for Zwerner to seek compensation beyond workers’ compensation benefits, the school board maintains its stance and intends to contest the ruling in higher courts.
The case raises questions about the extent of employers’ responsibility in safeguarding employees from unforeseen dangers in the workplace, particularly in instances where the risk does not align with the regular scope of the job.
Zwerner’s lawsuit, slated for a tentative trial in January 2025, continues to draw attention and debate around the fine line between personal and work-related injuries, particularly in an unusual circumstance as this.
The battle between Zwerner and the school system underlines the complex interplay of personal safety and the boundaries of workers’ compensation, paving the way for a legal contest that could set a precedent in Virginia’s legal landscape.