The vicious, random murder of 32 innocent victims on the Virginia Tech campus, on April 16, 2007, by Seung-Hui Cho, shocked America and the world. One can barely imagine the shock and grief that befell the friends, classmates, and family of the dead ones.
In the aftermath of such a disaster, it is only human to seek for answers, and to assign guilt. Fortunately or unfortunately, Mr. Cho's last target was himself; God will judge him, but no human court ever can.
What, then, are we to make of the news that families of 7 victims have retained a high-priced Beltway personal-injury law firm?
If Mr. Cho were still alive, it would be perfectly proper to sue him for the deaths, if he had anything worth taking. Even with him dead, if he left behind a large sum of money, suing his estate would be not unreasonable. But, from all accounts, he was your usual more or less penniless college student, with no property of note.
Rather, it seems that the families are planning to sue Virginia Tech, which is to say, the State of Virginia. And since "government funds" are really your tax dollars, the true targets are the taxpayers of Old Dominion.
While we can have only the deepest possible sympathy for their families, and the greatest sorrow for their loss, nevertheless this is a gravely disturbing trend. How can you place a price on human life? In economic terms, we do it every day; but is a large check from the taxpayers of Virginia somehow going to reduce the damage?
In the aftermath of 9/11, a fund was provided to offer compensation to the surviving families. To an extent, there may be some sense; after all, many of the dead were primary wage-earners, and their innocent children may not have been well provided for otherwise. This is not the case for college students, however.
Sometimes we see a lawsuit made for no other reason than to force change. And occasionally, this is appropriate, if change cannot come in any other way. But what changes, exactly, are being asked of Virginia Tech, or the state of Virginia?
Gun control? VT was a gun-free campus already, legally; and if a person is going to ignore the ultimate law and commit murder, some petty gun regulation will hardly stand in their way.
Removal of gun control, so the students might have defended themselves? What lawsuit can accomplish that?
Better mental-health coordination? We've been there; at one time every state or county had an asylum for the criminally insane. Lots of dangerous loonies wound up in there. Lots of perfectly sane people who got in the way of someone powerful or wealthy did too. Again, no lawsuit is going to unsnarl that particular mess.
No, this lawsuit can only be another symptom of the "politics of meaning." I must show that I Care by Doing Something! Never mind if that Something is useless, or even counterproductive; it shows that I Care.
For every dollar that the State of Virginia pays in legal fees or damages, that is one less dollar that can be spent on police, to help prevent the next shooting, or on anything else that we expect our government to provide. Will the settlement make the families feel better? Doubtful. So the state will be worse off; the families will be no better off; as so often, the only beneficiaries will be - who else? - the trial lawyers.
The purpose of suing somebody is not to make you feel better. It's not even to compensate you for your loss, in the abstract; it is to receive damages from somebody whose fault it is, as just compensation for their bad actions or negligence. It is not the fault of the college or the state that a madman went on a rampage. Are we now to sue for any murders, which "the State should have prevented"? What about sending the state a bill for all the hours we lose in traffic jams, because "the State should have built more roads"?
We can sympathize with the families; their pain must be almost too much to bear. There can be no sympathy for these lawyers, who are motivated by the purest and most evil sort of greed. An honorable attorney would have offered whatever personal solace they might have been able to; perhaps a recommendation to a minister or counselor; but kindly, and gently, explained to the family that a lawsuit was inappropriate, and indeed, disrespectful to the memory of the students themselves.
Let us hope that the first judge to be presented with this case has more decency and humanity than the law firm of Bode & Grenier, LLP.