NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – Attorneys representing the former assistant principal of Richneck Elementary School are asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed against her and other educators by a teacher who was shot by a 6-year-old student. The attorneys argue that the teacher was shot in the course of doing her job, so her injuries should be covered by Virginia’s Workers’ Compensation Act.
That teacher is 25-year-old Abby Zwerner. She was teaching her first grade class when her student shot her on Jan. 6. The bullet went through Zwerner’s hand and chest, seriously injuring her. Authorities confirmed the gun belonged to the boy’s mother, Deja Taylor. A grand jury indicted Taylor in April, charging her with felony child neglect and misdemeanor recklessly leaving a loaded firearm so as to endanger a child.
Zwerner filed a $40 million lawsuit against the Newport News School Board, former Superintendent Dr. Gregory Parker, former Richneck Principal Briana Foster-Newton, and former Richneck Assistant Principal Dr. Ebony Parker on April 3.
The lawsuit claims the shooting was a personal attack against Zwerner and that the school board and administrators failed to protect her against the student despite multiple warnings that staff believed he had a gun.
Zwerner’s attorney’s claim specifically that teachers and employees warned Ebony Parker three times that they believed the student had a gun on Jan. 6, but she failed to call 911, put the school on lockdown, or evacuate students.
Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew confirmed to 10 On Your Side that no one called 911 and told law enforcement that a student had a gun before the shooting.
Parker resigned from NNPS on Jan. 25 and has since hired attorneys John Mumford Jr. and Coreen Silverman to represent her in the lawsuit. 10 On Your Side reached out to her attorneys for comment on this story but received none before publication.
Parker’s attorneys filed a plea-in-bar asking a judge to dismiss the case on May 19. The three-page document is shorter than the plea-in-bar filed in April by attorneys representing the NNSB, but their argument is the same: Zwerner was shot while doing her job, so her injuries are covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act.
The law provides benefits for employees injured on the job, but prohibits them from suing their employers if they were hurt during the course of their duties. The employer has to pay something out (which they’re usually insured for), but it’s virtually never as high as the amount they would under a tort claim lawsuit – a civil suit for damages.
Whether work-place shootings are covered by Workers’ Compensation is also at the heart of lawsuits filed in the wake of the November mass shooting at Walmart when an employee killed six of his colleagues. Three former employees have sued the corporation, but Walmart has asked a judge to dismiss the litigation arguing that their injuries fall under Workers’ Compensation.
The central issue that these cases hinge on is how injuries related to shootings are categorized.
If they’re considered “workplace accidents,” then they’re covered under workers’ compensation. If they were intentional injuries that occurred in the workplace but had nothing to do with it, then they may be considered legitimate tort claims.