A Virginia first-grader who was shot in class by a 6-year-old student appeared in court Friday as she sought $40 million in damages.
Abby Zwerner is suing Newport News Public Schools for $40 million, accusing the school board of gross negligence.
However, the school board is trying to fend off the lawsuit, arguing that Zwerner’s injuries fall under workers’ compensation and are therefore limited to 10 years’ salary and limited medical benefits.
Zwerner, 26, spent two weeks in the hospital after the January incident in which a bullet hit her hand and chest.
She accuses the school of ignoring warnings that the boy had a gun in his backpack.
Shortly after the shooting, the 6-year-old told a reading specialist who was restraining him, “I shot that (expletive)” and “I got my mom’s gun last night,” the search warrants say.
Abby Zwerner is suing Newport News Public Schools for $40 million, accusing the school board of gross negligence
Zwerner’s lawyers argue that school administrators were grossly negligent and ignored reports that the child had a gun in his backpack
Zwerner, 26, was shot in January by a six-year-old student who then bragged about the incident
Zwerner attended Friday’s hearing before a judge with her left arm still supported by a sling and her left hand wrapped in a thick cloth bandage.
One of her attorneys, Kevin Biniazan, asked the judge to allow Zwerner’s lawsuit to proceed to trial because “no first-grader expects to be shot at work.”
“The particular danger of coming into contact with a firearm is not in the nature of a first-grader’s occupation,” Biniazan said.
But Anne Lahren, an attorney for the school board, said the incident “fully” falls under workers’ compensation because Zwerner was working in her capacity as a teacher.
And Zwerner’s lawsuit focuses on allegations of negligence in her workplace, which also fall under the law, Lahren added.
Robert Samuel, another attorney for the school board, said, “That doesn’t mean Ms. Zwerner won’t receive benefits and will be left out in the cold.”
Newport News District Court Judge Matthew Hoffman said he would rule on the matter next week.
Newport News District Court Judge Matthew Hoffman will decide whether Zwerner’s case should be heard in labor court or criminal court
Zwerner can be seen outside court on Friday, standing next to her lawyers. She didn’t speak
Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, where the shooting occurred. Several parents have filed a lawsuit against the school for failing to protect their children
Zwerner was shot as she sat at a reading table in the classroom
He will have to decide whether Zwerner’s allegations can be heard in court or whether they belong before the Workers’ Compensation Commission.
After the hearing, Zwerner stood outside the courtroom with her lawyers.
She declined to answer direct questions from a crowd of reporters, her face hiding her emotions.
“It’s an overwhelming moment for them – I think we have to appreciate it,” Biniazan said.
“Today, in a way, everything is reaching its climax.” As many thoughts and comments as Abby may have, they’re all running around in her head, probably faster than she can articulate them. So I hope you can excuse her for speaking through us.’
Zwerner says the administration ignored multiple warnings that the boy had a gun that day and routinely dismissed ongoing concerns about his troubling behavior.
Legal experts say Zwerner’s lawsuit faces an uphill battle because of Virginia’s unusually strict workers’ compensation law, which covers allegations of negligence.
Meanwhile, the mother of the six-year-old boy who shot Zwerner is still awaiting sentencing on child neglect charges.
Deja Taylor appears in federal court in Virginia Beach, Virginia on June 12th. Your 6-year-old shot his teacher in a classroom
Taylor pleaded guilty in June to using marijuana while in possession of a firearm. Authorities said she lied about her drug use on a federal background check form when she bought the gun that her son took to school
Deja Taylor’s sentencing was scheduled for Friday afternoon but was postponed until December.
Court records show the delay came at the request of both the defense and the prosecution, in part because a guardian ad litem report was not yet available.
In Virginia, a guardian ad litem is appointed to represent the child’s interests in cases alleging neglect.
Taylor, 25, faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty, although prosecutors will recommend only a six-month sentence as part of a plea deal.
Taylor told police she believed her 9mm handgun was secured with a trigger lock at home. However, authorities said they never found a lock when they searched the home.
Taylor’s son told authorities he climbed a drawer to reach the top of a dresser where the gun was in her purse. He hid the gun in his backpack and then in his pocket before shooting his teacher in front of the class, prosecutors said.
Taylor has separately pleaded guilty to using marijuana while in possession of a gun, which is illegal under U.S. law, and will be sentenced in federal court next month.
A settlement in this case calls for a prison sentence of 18 to 24 months.