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Commonwealth v. Peterson

Supreme Court of Virginia
749 S.E.2d 307 (Va. 2013)


On April 16, 2007, at 7:30 a.m., police responded to a shooting at a Virginia Tech dorm. Virginia Tech Police, Blacksburg Police, and Virginia State Police all became involved in the investigation. Based on the evidence at the crime scene and the fact that the shooting occurred in a dorm room, the police felt that it was an isolated, domestic, “targeted” shooting; that the shooter had fled; and that no others were in danger. In light of this account from all three police departments, Virginia Tech officials believed the same. Virginia Tech officials sent a campus-wide email stating that there had been a shooting on campus and urging all to be on the lookout for suspicious activity. However, at approximately 9:45 a.m. that morning, a mass shooting occurred at a different Virginia Tech dorm, killing, among others, Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde. At that point, Virginia Tech officials sent out a campus-wide email stating that there was a shooter on the loose and advising all to stay inside until further notice. The administrators of Peterson and Pryde’s estates (plaintiffs) brought a wrongful death suit in Montgomery County Circuit Court against the Commonwealth of Virginia (Commonwealth) (defendant), arguing that Virginia Tech officials breached their duty to warn students of the possible danger after the first shootings occurred. The circuit court found that: (1) a special relationship existed between Virginia Tech officials and the decedents, imposing a duty on Virginia Tech to warn the decedents of the potential danger of the shooter, and (2) the Virginia Tech officials breached that duty. The Commonwealth appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Powell, J.)

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