Sandy Hook Lawsuit: Damages TBD, But Start with $100 Million


We all wept for the families of the dead. We all worry for the children who heard and recognized gunfire, and have to be introduced at five to ten years old to the finality of death and the possibility that it can happen to children like themselves. Debates rage over gun control or arming teachers or locking up people at risk for violence. The Newtown shooter killed himself and the owner of his guns. But in litigation America, there's always somewhere to lay the blame and put a price on it. According to Reuters, the first lawsuit by the parents of a child who wasn't killed was filed 13 days after the tragedy.

No, it's not a wrongful-death suit against gunmakers. Holding them responsible, in the fine tradition of product liability, was made impossible by Public Law 109-92, enacted as Chapter 105 of the U.S. Code, "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms." It's not against anyone connected to the shooter. It's against the Connecticut Board of Education, Department of Education, and Education Commissioner, or will be if state Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. finds it viable. The suit will ask for $100 million for unknown trauma suffered when the state authorities failed to protect a six-year-old identified only as Jill Doe from "foreseeable harm."

The attorney filing the suit on behalf of young Jill's family, Irv Pinsky of New Haven, reports in his charge that the child heard shooting, cursing, and screaming over the public-address system that principal Dawn Hochsprung left open as she lunged at the shooter, sacrificing her own life, to inform classroom staff of what was happening near the office. That single decision allowed the teachers to hide children, possibly including Jill, in cupboards and closets and save their lives. Hundreds of students survived. But according to the lawsuit, the state failed to provide an effective protocol for responding to an emergency that Pinsky assures us will inevitably happen again.

I'm sorry for what young Jill and her schoolmates experienced. I'm sorry for my grandniece, whose teacher decided on a one-classroom "lock down–lie down drill" that had Florida kindergarteners shaking and crying in terror on the floor, begging their teacher to tell them it was over. I'm sorry for every child whose innocent enjoyment of school has been or will be shattered, not by a gunman, but by the fearfulness of the adults around them, who decide to arm their teachers, or to exact fines from the officials who thought their job was educating the children — and therefore from their neighbors who pay taxes — for presumed injury later in a child's life. They'll all have "sustained emotional and psychological trauma and injury," as this lawsuit claims. They all, and we all, need their parents to focus on caring for their children, and not on where the pockets are deepest.