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Students, families impacted by shooting to sue university for 'gross negligence'

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Lee este reportaje en español aquí.

Updated on June 23, 2023 at 12:16 p.m. ET

Students and families who've been impacted by the February shooting at Michigan State University are planning to sue the school, arguing the university was aware its buildings were unsafe and endangered students by failing to make them more secure.

Attorneys representing Troy Forbush and Nate Statly, two of the students wounded on Feb. 13, filed notices of intent to the Court of Claims on June 12 indicating they plan to sue MSU for damages. On June 13, attorneys with the family of Alexandria Verner, who was one of three killed in the incident, filed a separate notice of intent to the court to bring forward a lawsuit against the university.

On June 20, the Court of Claims processed an additional notice of intent to sue from attorneys representing survivor Yukai "John" Hao. Hao's filing was received by the court on June 5.

Both sets of files name several groups within the university, including the Board of Trustees, Office of the President and Department of Police and Public Safety.

The documents detail the “severe and permanent injuries” Forbush and Statly sustained when they were shot in a classroom on campus.

According to the filings, the shooter entered a classroom in Berkey Hall and shot Forbush in his left lung on Feb. 13. He was taken to Sparrow Hospital and required emergency surgery, and he "continues to struggle with extensive lung injuries."

The letters indicate Statly was shot in the head and has sustained major injuries to his head and brain. He is continuing to receive treatment at a hospital in Chicago.

Hao's filing states he "was shot in the back as he attempted to run away" and escape through the windows in the room. It adds he has sustained significant injuries to his spine and lungs "resulting in permanent paralysis at and below the chest."

Attorneys for Forbush and Statly allege prior to the shooting, MSU had received complaints about "defective safety conditions" in buildings on campus. They wrote the unsafe conditions included allowing public access in the evening, the lack of a locking system for classroom doors, offering no active shooter training for all students and poor temperature control in Berkey Hall that forced students and faculty to prop doors open.

The filings state the school “acted with gross negligence” by failing to protect the campus community.

"The University's decision to ignore complaints...resulted in an unreasonably dangerous risk of injury," they wrote. "There is no rationale as to why Michigan State University chose to ignore complaints and failed to take any corrective action to remedy the defective conditions. To state otherwise would be to deny the country's present reality."

Attorneys also stated that the deaths of Verner as well as Brian Fraser and Arielle Anderson were "a direct and proximate result of the dangerous or defective conditions on the premises."

Under the Michigan Constitution, government agencies like a state university can be held liable for injuries if a public building is in “defective condition” and the agency was aware of issues and failed to address them.

Mick Grewal, the attorney representing Forbush and Statly, declined to comment on the documents.

In a statement, MSU spokesperson Dan Olsen said the school acknowledges how the incident has had a profound impact on community members.

"We are heartbroken and sorry for the tragic loss of life and each person harmed by senseless gun violence," Olsen said. "MSU has been engaged in conversations with the families of those we lost and those injured to identify ways to provide ongoing support, and we are committed to keeping those lines of communication open.”

Since the shooting, MSU has implemented keycard requirements to enter buildings and installed door locks among other security measures.

Corrected: June 23, 2023 at 12:16 PM EDT
A previous version of this story misspelled Brian Fraser's last name as Frasier. The mistake has been corrected.
Updated: June 20, 2023 at 5:21 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include details from the notice of intent from attorneys representing Yukai "John" Hao.
Updated: June 15, 2023 at 11:00 AM EDT
This story has been updated to include details from the notice of intent from Alexandria Verner's family to sue MSU and a response from the attorney representing Troy Forbush and Nate Statly.
Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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