Virginia teacher shot by 6-year-old can proceed with $40 million lawsuit, judge rules

by Andrew Wright
Virginia teacher lawsuit

In a recent court ruling, Abby Zwerner, a teacher wounded by a 6-year-old pupil in Virginia, has been authorized to continue her $40 million litigation against the school district, alleging negligence on the part of the school authorities. Newport News Circuit Court Judge Matthew Hoffman’s unexpected ruling on Friday opened the possibility for Zwerner to obtain compensation beyond what workers’ compensation would typically offer for the grave injuries she sustained from the shooting incident in January.

School officials from Newport News Public Schools had sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, contending that workers’ compensation—which includes almost a decade’s worth of salary and medical care for life for injuries—should be the only remedy available to Zwerner. However, Zwerner’s legal team argued that such compensation is inapplicable because a teacher, especially at the first-grade level, would not foresee the risk of being shot as part of their employment duties.

Judge Hoffman agreed with Zwerner’s perspective, determining that the injuries she suffered were not a result of her employment, thus exempting them from being covered solely by workers’ compensation insurance.

In his written decision, Hoffman stated that the peril of being shot by a pupil does not constitute a risk inherent to the profession of a first-grade teacher. Following the incident, Zwerner underwent extensive medical treatment, including multiple surgeries for wounds to her hand and chest. She asserts that school administrators overlooked several indications that the boy was armed on the day of the incident and consistently ignored the boy’s prior disturbing conduct.

The legal team representing Zwerner, composed of Diane Toscano, Jeffrey Breit, and Kevin Biniazan, expressed that the court’s ruling marked a significant milestone in their quest for justice and that they look forward to continuing their efforts to hold the parties accountable and to secure a fair compensation for Zwerner, who has since ceased working for the school system. A preliminary court date for the case has been set for January 2025.

In response, attorneys for the school board have signaled their intention to appeal the decision, asserting their expectation that the appellate court will overturn the ruling. They maintain that the injuries Zwerner sustained are job-related and should be addressed within the scope of workers’ compensation.

The school board’s counsel, Anne Lahren, highlighted that injuries inflicted by students upon teachers are regrettably not uncommon and seem to be growing more frequent. Despite these assertions, the school board is preparing for the possibility that the appellate court might sustain Judge Hoffman’s decision.

The incident, which took place in early January when the young student used his mother’s handgun to shoot Zwerner while she was seated at a reading table, spurred a nationwide debate on gun violence and caused considerable unrest in the military shipbuilding community near Chesapeake Bay.

Zwerner filed her lawsuit in April, alleging that school officials had neglected clear warnings that the student was armed and had displayed aggressive behavior.

The case is further complicated by the fact that Virginia’s workers’ compensation laws are notably stringent, generally covering assaults and employer negligence claims. Nonetheless, Friday’s ruling by Judge Hoffman, deeming the incident “personal,” stands in contrast to the norm, as noted by J. H. Verkerke, a University of Virginia law professor. While this decision is atypical based on past Virginia precedents, the professor acknowledges the unusual nature of the assault, suggesting it may not fit within the traditional boundaries of the workers’ compensation framework.

The article also rectifies the misspelling of attorney Anne Lahren’s name, confirming it as Lahren instead of Lehran.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Virginia teacher lawsuit

Can the Virginia teacher who was shot by a student sue the school system?

Yes, Abby Zwerner, the teacher who was shot by her 6-year-old student, has been granted the right to proceed with her $40 million lawsuit against the Newport News Public Schools system after a judge ruled that the school administrators may have been negligent.

What is the basis of the teacher’s lawsuit against the Newport News Public Schools?

The lawsuit is based on claims of negligence by the school administrators. Abby Zwerner’s legal team argues that the school ignored multiple warnings that the boy had a gun and failed to address his history of violent behavior, which they believe contributed to the circumstances that allowed the shooting to occur.

What was the school’s defense against the teacher’s lawsuit?

The school’s defense rested on the claim that Abby Zwerner’s injuries should be covered under workers’ compensation, which typically includes salary continuation and lifetime medical care. They argued that being injured by a student, unfortunately, falls under the risks associated with teaching.

What did the judge rule regarding the teacher’s ability to sue for damages outside of workers’ compensation?

Judge Matthew Hoffman ruled in favor of Abby Zwerner, stating that her injuries did not arise directly from her employment, which means the case does not fall under the exclusive remit of workers’ compensation and can therefore proceed in the courts.

What are the implications of the judge’s ruling for the teacher and the school system?

The implications of Judge Hoffman’s ruling are significant for Abby Zwerner, as it allows her to seek damages beyond the scope of workers’ compensation. For the school system, it presents a potential legal and financial challenge and could set a precedent affecting how such cases are handled in the future.

What has been the response of the Newport News Public Schools to the judge’s ruling?

The school board’s attorneys have indicated plans to appeal the ruling, stating that they fully anticipate the decision to be reversed by an appellate court. They maintain that Zwerner’s injuries are directly related to her job as a teacher and should thus be covered by workers’ compensation.

When is the trial for Abby Zwerner’s lawsuit scheduled?

The tentative trial date for Abby Zwerner’s lawsuit is scheduled for January 2025.

More about Virginia teacher lawsuit

  • Virginia teacher’s legal battle
  • Newport News Public Schools lawsuit details
  • Workers’ compensation and teacher injuries
  • Legal precedents in Virginia workers’ compensation cases
  • Nationwide debate on gun violence in schools
  • Virginia law professor’s perspective on the case

You may also like


Jane Doe November 4, 2023 - 11:26 am

it’s really shocking to hear about a 6-year-old with a gun at school, I mean where are we heading as a society when our kids are taking weapons to class

John Smith November 4, 2023 - 9:29 pm

not to be that guy but if workers comp doesn’t cover getting shot by a student then what’s it even for? this is a clear sign that the system is broken and we need to fix it asap

Emily Jones November 4, 2023 - 9:38 pm

I’ve been following this case and wow just wow, I can’t imagine what that teacher has been through. can only hope the lawsuit brings some kind of change, stay strong Abby!

Michael Lee November 4, 2023 - 10:02 pm

how does a 6 year old even get access to a gun? this is just beyond understanding, something needs to be done about gun control like yesterday

Bob Anderson November 5, 2023 - 7:31 am

theres something seriously wrong if a teacher has to sue to get justice, schools should be safe places not war zones, thoughts and prayers for Ms Zwerner


Leave a Comment


BNB – Big Big News is a news portal that offers the latest news from around the world. BNB – Big Big News focuses on providing readers with the most up-to-date information from the U.S. and abroad, covering a wide range of topics, including politics, sports, entertainment, business, health, and more.

Editors' Picks

Latest News

© 2023 BBN – Big Big News