- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

The state has agreed to give 21 families of the Virginia Tech massacre $11 million in blood money to avoid lawsuits that would attempt to assign responsibility to anyone other than the lone nut job.

This reflects the grievance-minded culture of the day and unscrupulous lawyers ever willing to sue businesses, institutions and private citizens over the flimsiest reasons. People are killed each day, each loss of life as painful as the next, none more financially worthy than the next, unless apparently you are related to one of the 32 dead and 24 wounded on the Blacksburg, Va., campus.

Then the families of the victims can consort with lawyers and come to the conclusion that the state somehow owes them compensation for their grief and loss.

This is fairly simple. One mentally disturbed gunman was responsible for the carnage. Virginia’s taxpayers, who are stuck with the bill, played no part in the evil lurking in the heart of a deranged person on that dark day in April last year.

This is not to trivialize the loss of life or minimize the grief of the families. Their grief is real, profound and probably will stick with the parents until they, too, die.

As much as the families have had the sympathy of a nation, their financial compensation is hardly just to those who lose loved ones to all kinds of unpleasant, unthinkable circumstances. What about the family whose child is slain by the stray bullet of a gang member? Does this family not deserve compensation from the state? Can this family not contend that a permissive court system and lax borders contributed to a lawless climate that resulted in the death of an innocent child?

What about the senior citizen motorist who plows into a pedestrian, killing him or her? Can the family of the victim contend that the Department of Motor Vehicles was somehow negligent in not pulling the driver’s license of the senior citizen?

Living is dangerous stuff, and no amount of legislation and lawyerly meddling ever will change that truism.

There is something unseemly about putting a price tag on the departed, because no amount of money can replace what has been lost.

Yet the 21 Virginia Tech families, with the help of their attorneys, put a price on the heads of their loved ones and reached an agreement with a state that had no choice but to seek a settlement because of the legal climate.

Gov. Tim Kaine called the development “very positive” after considering the alternative of a drawn-out court case.

The two lawyers representing the 21 families of the dead and the wounded expressed the feel-good notion that all “will be well-compensated,” while neglecting to mention their compensation.

They also said the settlement will “result in the release of previously undisclosed facts and information turned up by our firm’s investigation that will enable the public to better understand the events, which caused the senseless tragedy.”

Nothing caused the senseless tragedy but a student who went off the deep end. Did university officials err in waiting about two hours before informing students and employees of the danger after thinking the first two shootings were an act of domestic violence? In hindsight, of course, they erred. But who among us might have interpreted the initial shootings differently?

Gun-wielding perpetrators usually leave the scene of their crime. They rarely return two hours later to resume their killing spree.

Somehow, though, the families of the victims cast blame on the university and a mental-health industry that failed to treat the killer. They found fault in the imperfections of life. They found fault in human-run institutions that, predictably enough, are flawed.

Lawyers eat awfully well because of this elementary truth. At least two more lawyers are eating well because of the taxpayers of Virginia.

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