A $40 million lawsuit by a former teacher who was shot by a 6-year-old student isn’t barred by workers compensation exclusivity and can move forward, a Virginia judge ruled Friday.
Newport News Circuit Court Judge Matthew Hoffman ruled that a civil suit brought by Abigail Zwerner can move forward because an injury from a gunshot wound is not one that is a “natural incident of the work” and is not “connected with the employment” of a first-grade teacher.
Attorneys for the Newport News school system argued that Ms. Zwerner’s lawsuit was barred by comp exclusivity and should be dismissed.
If she succeeds in her lawsuit, Ms. Zwerner stands to recover more in damages than she would through comp.
A jury trial is scheduled for January 2025.
“Defendants have not met their burden to prove that Plaintiff’s injures fall within the exclusive coverage of the (comp) Act,” Judge Hoffman wrote.
In a statement, Ms. Zwerner’s attorneys said they were pleased with the decision, and that the “victory is an important stepping stone on our path towards justice for Abby.”
“No teacher expects to stare down the barrel of a gun held by a six-year-old student,” wrote lawyers Diane Toscano of Toscano Law Group and Jeffrey Breit and Kevin Biniazan, both of Breit Biniazan Trial Lawyers. Both firms are in Virginia Beach.
Anne Lahren, an attorney with Virginia Beach-based Pender & Coward P.C. representing the school district, said the defendants would appeal the ruling.
“The actual risk of employment in this scenario is that of a teacher being injured at the hands of a student which, unfortunately, is a fairly common occurrence and one that is only increasing in frequency this day and age,” Ms. Lahren said in a statement.