Monthly Archives: December 2012

Lawsuits Often Follow America’s Mass Shootings

By David Macaulay, Veritas Legal Media

America is once again gripped by the enormity of another shooting tragedy : this time the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Over the next few days and weeks, the shooter’s motive will be carefully examined. So too will the question of whether school authorities could have done more to avert this tragedy.

In the wake of mass shootings lawyers often step in, although the enormity of the tragedy does not always have a direct bearing on the issue of liability.

In the wake of the Aurora shooting on July 20, 2012 which saw James Eagan Holmes charged with the shooting deaths of 12 people in a Colorado movie theater, Torrence Brown Jr., one of the survivors, said he was planning on suing the theater.

Brown was friends with 18-year-old AJ Boik, one of the shooting victims. He said he is seeking therapy and is emotionally distraught after the shooting. The shooting left 58 people injured.

According to reports, Brown plans to sue the Century 16 theater, which is owned by Cinemark, for having an exit door that was not equipped with an alarm or guarded.

Lawsuits often come forward in the wake of mass shootings.  After the 1999 Columbine school shooting in Colorado which 12 students and an adult were killed, some families of the victims attempted to sue gaming companies for $5 billion.

The class action alleged those who carried out the massacre, were influenced by a number of violent video games, in particular one called “Doom.” However, a federal judge dismissed the suit.

There were also a number of unsuccessful lawsuits filed against the school. Some of the impacted families won a settlement against the shooter’s parents and against friends who helped provide guns to the young men.

A number of wrongful death suits were filed in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, the deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history.

In March 2012 a jury awarded $4 million to each of two families who filed a suit. The families’ lawyers argued the school should have notified the students sooner after learning that two other students had been found shot dead in a West Ambler Johnston dormitory room on the morning of April 16, 2007.The shooter, Seung-Hui Cho went on to massacre 30 other people, including the two victims whose families sued – Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson.

At a later hearing Judge William Alexander II set the jury’s award at $100,000 for each family, the highest amount allowed under Virginia’s cap on damages against the state.

The state settled with some other family members, in the wake of the tragedy.

In 2009, more than 50 relatives of the victims of the Fort Hood massacre sued the federal government, claiming authorities ignored warning signs that the accused killer, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, was dangerous and violent.

Although lawsuits are common after tragedies plaintiffs face many obstacles. To prove negligence authorities should have known about a risk or have been expected to know. Suing local governments can be difficult even when plaintiffs are successful, issues such as caps often come into play, as demonstrated by the Virginia Tech lawsuits.

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Filed under Premesis Liability, Wrongful Death

Court Rules Marijuana Use is Not Protected Under the Americans with Disabilities Act

By David Macaulay, Veritas Legal Media

Recently voters in Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. The two states are also among 18 that allow the use of the drug for medical use, as well as Washington DC.

But if you are a federal or any other employee you may not be entitled to protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, even if you live in a state that allows marijuana use, a recent court case has ruled.


While Colorado and Washington passed referendums legalizing marijuana for recreational use on November 6, 2012, the drug is still banned under federal law where it is presently classified as an illegal schedule 1 drug.

Marijuana has been used to treat a large number of medical conditions including cancer and multiple sclerosis.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently considered the issue of protections under the ADA in November, 2012 and found that California residents using medical marijuana permitted by state law but prohibited by federal law, constituted an illegal use of drugs under the ADA of 1990.

In the case of James, et al. v. City of Costa Mesa, residents of two California cities were recommended the use of medical marijuana to ease their pain. The drug is permitted to be used for medical purposes in California.

However, the cities in which they obtained marijuana sought to close marijuana dispensing facilities. The residents sued the cities under the ADA Title II. They claimed that by interfering with their access to medical marijuana, the cities were preventing them from accessing public services.

They sued but were ultimately unsuccessful. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of preliminary injunctive relief, stating the ADA defines “illegal drug use” by referring to federal, not state, law. The court ruled federal law does not authorize the residents’ use of medical marijuana.

The judges said it was “unlikely that Congress would have wished to legitimize state-authorized, federally proscribed medical marijuana use” in what it said was an ambiguous ADA provision.

The issue of medical marijuana use did not arise in the employment context in this case but the terms analyzed by the court are the same ones as used in ASA’s employment provisions. It’s, therefore, reasonable to believe the same provisions apply if an employee with an illness seeks ADA protection to use medical marijuana. An experienced employment attorney can advise you on your rights.

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Filed under Disability law, Employment law