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Wrongful Death Lawsuit: Is Campus Security Lax?

When UVA lacrosse player Yeardley Love was found dead in her off-campus apartment, the school's president hoped her death would inspire outrage over campus violence.  Last week, he got his wish when Yeardley's mom sued the school for wrongful death.

Speaking at a candlelight vigil held three days after her murder, University President John Casteen hoped “that her dying inspires an anger, a sense of outrage ... wherever Yeardley’s name is recognized that no woman ... fear for her safety or experience violence for any reason.”

It has.

Expressing outrage that her daughter had to live in fear for her safety, Sharon Love's $29.45 million wrongful death lawsuit raises serious questions about the University's duty to protect its students from violence on and off campus.

Filed nearly a year after her daughter was murdered at the hands of UVA men’s lacrosse player George Huguely V, the suit claims that the school failed to protect Yeardley and other students from his drunken, erratic and violent behavior.  Citing three prior incidents of violence, including one in which Huguely attempted to choke Yeardley until other students restrained him, the Complaint alleges that “[i]t was well known to the players and coaches on the UVA men’s and women’s lacrosse teams that Huguely’s alcohol abuse and erratic, aggressive behavior was increasingly getting out of control, especially his obsession with Love and his aggressiveness and threats to Love.”

Did the University discipline this dangerous student, place him into treatment, provide anger management counseling, or take other steps to protect his fellow students?  Not according to the lawsuit.  After all, both lacrosse programs were vying for a national title at the time.

Nope.  To honor Love, the University president held a candlelight vigil, expressed outrage, and let the rest of the lacrosse games resume.  As both teams entered the NCAA tournament, Yeardley’s old lacrosse coach vowed to “do it the way that Yards would want us to do it.”

Now that Yards’ mom has sued the school, its president isn’t talking much about the danger and fear that this young woman was forced to endure as a member of the campus community.  No longer expressing outrage, the University is letting its lawyers do the talking.  “While we certainly recognize the terrible loss suffered by the Love family,” a spokesman for Virginia’s Attorney General told the Associated Press that the “loss was not caused by the Commonwealth or anyone employed at the University of Virginia. ...  If it is served, we will vigorously defend the case.”

Whether or not the University had sufficient knowledge of the dangers posed by one of its students, or acted negligently in failing to protect others from his murderous hands, is a matter to be debated in court.  But it may just take a wrongful death lawsuit for University officials to focus as closely on campus security as their coaches focus on shots on goal.

Maybe that's how Yards would have wanted it.

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