Suing UVA for Yeardley Love’s Murder: Little Sense, Less Justice

Posted on May 8, 2012

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In news which is as unsurprising as it is dismaying, the mother of murdered UVA lacrosse player Yeardley Love is suing the school’s coaches, the athletic director, and the state.  Why?  Because they “ignored” murderer and fellow student George Huguely’s “erratic behavior.”

Quick recap:  Yeardley Love was a 22-year-old student and women’s lacrosse player.  George Huguely was, at the time, also a 22-year-old student and a men’s lacrosse player.  Huguely had a history of alcohol abuse and some run-ins with police in connection with that.  Love and Huguely dated on and off; he was previously violent toward her, as witnessed by others.  After they broke up, he sent threatening e-mails.  Eventually, he kicked in her door, shook and struck her, and she died as a result.  He has been found guilty of second-degree murder and the jury has recommended a 26-year sentence.

And now Sharon Love, Yeardley’s mother, is suing.  She is suing Huguely for over $30 million, which he does not have and is not likely ever to have, since he will spend the prime of his life in prison.  Maybe she is trying to keep him from inheriting his father’s money.  I can understand this vindictiveness for the murderer of her child, although a lawsuit is of questionable use here.

What I don’t understand is suing the coach, the athletics director, and the state for nearly another $30 million.  What a lawsuit like this says is:  college students, even at age 22, are someone else’s responsibility.  Not the parents’, and not their own.  It says that an adult woman did not have the wherewithal to make sound dating decisions, or to call the campus or city police when she was previously assaulted.  This adult woman did not complain to the coaches or athletic director or dean’s office.  Neither did any of the other young adults who witnessed her adult boyfriend’s violent, drunken behavior.  So now the coach, and the athletics director, and the state must pay.  Why should 22-year-old college students be different from the countless 22-year-old working adults just like them, just because they live in a dorm instead of as neighbors in an apartment complex?  Whose responsibility is domestic violence between the young working adults?  Does going to college make a person more juvenile, rather than more adult?  Is the college staff in some kind of weird parental role that makes them responsible for what students do?

Let’s also look at this from the what-if angle.  Mrs. Love says the coaches and the school “ignored” the warning signs.  What if they had not?  Imagine the reaction and the – yes – lawsuit from Huguely’s family, had UVA expelled him for being a drunken ass.  Someone in authority may have known about his drunkenness, but if none of the (adult) students – including Ms. Love – reported his violent behavior toward her, then the drunkenness was all the school really had to go on.  How many other kids are drunken asses from time to time?  Does no one remember their own college days, or the movie Animal House?  It’s not something to be ignored or condoned, but it is something to be expected.  Expelling students for drunken idiocy is not a reasonable expectation.

The other thing a lawsuit like this says, intentionally or not, is:  I am going to get rich from my child’s death.  Check out the reader comments at the Washington Post article.  They are not complimentary or sympathetic toward Mrs. Love.  The general mood seems to be that Huguely alone is responsible for Love’s death, and he is being punished.  There are also a number of comments pointing out that suing the state means suing Virginia taxpayers, and they are not responsible for Ms. Love’s death or any number of other awful things that happen in the state.

I’ve written elsewhere that I am all for victim compensation, but not victim enrichment.  And I am all for large punitive damages if they are necessary to cause pain to, say, a very wealthy negligent company.  But  taxpayers are not a wealthy negligent company, and I think that the amount of any award beyond actual compensation should go to some greater good, even something like Social Security, rather than to victim enrichment.  Victim enrichment is distasteful – it’s blood money – and all it does is encourage more lawsuits that make for little sense, and even less justice.

Originally published at The Color of Lila.

Update:  The Love family’s lawsuit was dropped less than a year later, with no public explanation.

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