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Who might be liable in a civil suit, and what can be done to prevent future shootings?

The Tragedy of the Oxford Shooting

On November 30, 2021, authorities arrested and charged a 15-year-old student for multiple crimes relating to a mass shooting he allegedly committed on the same day. The victims were 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin, 16-year-old Tate Myer, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana, and 17-year-old Justin Shilling. Additionally, seven other people, whose names have not been released, were injured during the shooting. Though the alleged shooter has been arrested and charged with crimes relating to the Oxford shooting, his parents have also been arrested and charged with multiple counts of involuntary manslaughter. Furthermore, the Oxford High-School is currently under investigation for their actions leading up to the November 30th tragedy, sparking a national conversation where many are questioning who is responsible for preventing gun violence in American Schools. Since we aren’t criminal defense attorneys, we’ll refrain from commenting on who will be found guilty, and discuss what could happen in a civil trial.

What Is the Difference between a Criminal and Civil Trial?

A civil trial is different from a criminal trial. Criminal trials examine whether or not the defendant committed a crime and, if so, what the sentence will be. In a civil trial, specifically regarding a personal injury claim, the trial examines whether or not the defendant is liable, whether or not the plaintiff was damaged by the defendant’s liability, and how the plaintiff will be compensatedif the plaintiff is compensated at all. A guilty verdict in a criminal trial does not automatically mean that the defendant would be liable in a civil trial. Although criminal trials and personal injury trials are related, they are not the same. This blog examines who could be liable if the families of the victims filed a claim for wrongful death.

James and Jennifer Crumbley 

A lot of people were surprised when James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of the alleged perpetrator, were charged with involuntary manslaughter. However, after learning the events leading up to the shooting it became apparent they should probably be held responsible in some fashion. In a personal injury case, James and Jennifer Crumbley might be considered liable. Four days before the shooting, the parents of the alleged shooter purchased the gun used in the shooting. Though the parents kept the gun in their bedroom, the gun was still easily accessible, especially for a 15-year-old. Though the parents aren’t legally required to lock their guns up in a safe, a personal injury attorney may argue that the parents did not do enough to ensure their son did not have unsupervised access to the gun.

 

Also, on the day of the shooting, the parents met with the principal of the school, regarding a concerning picture their son allegedly drew. The drawing depicted a handgun, a bullet, and a person who has been shot. “Blood everywhere” was written on the bullet. And, the student allegedly wrote, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” The parents met with the principal after the teacher reported the drawing to the principal. At that time, the parents were given the option to take their son home, or allow him to stay at school. They allowed him to stay at school. And it appears the parents failed to mention that they bought their sun a gun just four days prior. A personal injury attorney may argue that the parents should have taken the student home and made sure the gun was still in their drawer. Though we do not yet know whether or not the parents had any indication that their son had violent tendencies, how much they knew would almost certainly affect a personal injury case. If the parents had ample warning and lots of evidence that their son could be a danger to others, they would be more likely to be found liable in a personal injury case, especially if there was something they could have done to prevent the shooting and they didn’t

Oxford High School

The school is also being investigated at this time. If the school became involved in a personal injury case, their liability would likely depend upon whether or not the school acted reasonably with the information they had. Regarding the student’s alleged drawing, the teacher did the right thing by reporting it, but a personal injury attorney may argue that the school should have sent the student home for the day, instead of allowing him to go back to class. Depending on the school policies, the district policies, and the state laws, the school may have had legal grounds to search the student’s backpack and locker. If they were legally allowed to do that, and failed to, they would be more likely to be found liable. Since liability can be apportioned, multiple parties can be liable at the same time. So, even if the parents are determined liable for the shooting, the school could also be found liable.

The Alleged Shooter, Himself

Since the alleged shooter is only fifteen, he cannot be sued directly for wrongful death even though he caused the death of the victims. Since he’s underage, a victim or victim’s family would have to sue his legal representative, which is usually his parents. But, if the alleged shooter was 18 at the time of the shooting, the families of the victims could file a claim against him for wrongful death. However, since personal injury claims result in financial compensation when won, personally suing the perpetrator likely isn’t going to be worth the cost of the legal fees unless the defendant has a lot of assets. Generally, the younger the person is, the fewer assets they have.

 

Our Hearts Are with the Victims and Their Loved Ones

The Oxford Shooting was a horrifying tragedy that probably could have been prevented. The victims of the Oxford Shooting are more than just names. These are human beings whose lives were just beginning at the time they were taken. Madisyn Baldwin had already been accepted into multiple colleges at the time of her death. Tate Myer, a talented linebacker and tight end for the football team, was fatally shot in the shooting while heroically attempting to disarm the active shooter. Tate was an honor student with a bright future, playing varsity since his 9th grade year. Hana St. Juliana, who had been described as kind hearted and genuine, played basketball and volleyball for Oxford High School. Justin Shilling was the co-captain of Oxford High School’s bowling team and a senior with a bright future. At this time, our hearts and thoughts go out to the families and friends of the victims. If you have concerns about your child’s mental health, do not hesitate to talk with them today and to take steps to secure your guns. As a parent, don’t underestimate your  ability to proactively fight against gun violence in America’s schools.