Recently a veteran was shot and killed at the VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia. The incident occurred in the early morning outside the hospital when a veteran presented for his cancer treatment. He was confronted by an individual in the parking lot who had a personal vendetta against him. The veteran was shot and died the next day. This tragic event raises multiple legal issues. First and foremost, can the veteran’s family sue anyone for his death? The answer is yes. The murderer certainly can be sued under the Virginia wrongful death statute. However, it is unlikely that much of a recovery will be secured given that the triggerman will probably spend the remainder of his life in prison. The more interesting question is whether the veteran’s family can sue the United States for his death since the incident occurred on government property? The answer is probably no.
The Federal Tort Claims Act, the law that allows citizens to sue the United States government for injury, specifically exempts any injury that occurs as a result of an intentional tort such as assault and battery. Even if the triggerman in this instance had been an employee of the VA, which he was not, any action against the government would be barred. However, that bar would not apply if the claimants could prove that VA negligence was a proximate cause of the vet’s death. For example, if one could prove that the VA was aware that the triggerman was on the hospital grounds with a loaded weapon and took no action whatsoever to intervene, then a possible action might apply. Success in such a case would turn on the facts. What is important here is that the case would not be based on the triggerman’s wrongful conduct but rather on the VA’s NEGLIGENT conduct.