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Virginia Teacher Shot by First Grader Can Move Forward with $40 Million Lawsuit

Newport News Circuit Court Judge ruled the teacher's injuries 'did not arise out of her employment' and therefore weren't covered by workers compensation

The elementary school teacher who was shot in her classroom by a student can proceed with a lawsuit against the school district.

Abby Zwerner sustained a hand and shoulder injury in January after her six-year-old student brought a handgun to Richneck Elementary School and shot her. She spent two weeks in the hospital recovering. 

Newport News Circuit Court Judge Matthew Hoffman ruled in Zwerner’s favor on Nov. 3 despite objections from Newport News Public Schools. The school district had argued that the lawsuit should be thrown out as Zwerner can receive almost 10 years of pay and lifetime medical care for her injuries under workers’ compensation. 

The judge ruled that the teacher’s injuries did not “fall within the exclusive provisions of workers’ compensation coverage” because they “did not arise out of her employment.”

“The danger of being shot by a student is not one that is peculiar or unique to the job of a first-grade teacher,” wrote Hoffman, per WFMZ.

According to unsealed search warrants, the young boy involved in the shooting confessed to attacking Zwerner minutes after the shooting. 

Amy Kovac – a reading specialist at the school who rushed into the classroom after hearing gunfire – told police the student was standing by his desk with the gun on the ground.

“I shot that b—- dead,” the boy told Kovac, according to her statement.

“I did it,” he added as she restrained him. “I got my mom’s gun last night.”

Zwerner told investigators that, when she separated her class into two groups for a reading activity, the boy took out the gun. She said she asked the student, “What are you doing with that?” and the boy fired. 

In her lawsuit, Zwerner accused school administrators of gross negligence. She said the student had a history of behavioral issues that were known to the school’s leadership, who ignored repeated warnings from teachers. She also said the school failed to implement more stringent safety measures. 

“It was the responsibility of Defendants to supervise (the boy), control him, remove him when necessary for the safety of others, and search him for the firearm that they knew to be in his possession,” says the complaint filed on April 3.

“This should have never happened. It was preventable and thank God Abby is alive. But had the school administrators acted in the interest of their teachers and their students, Abby would not have sustained a gunshot wound to the chest,” Diane Toscano, one of the attorneys representing Zwerner, said at a press conference in January

The student’s mother, Deja Taylor, pleaded guilty to one count of felony child neglect on Aug. 15. She had told investigators the 9mm handgun her son used in the shooting had been stored in her purse with a trigger lock. A trigger lock was never discovered during a search of her home. Taylor pleaded guilty to illegally using drugs while owning a firearm and making false statements about using marijuana when she purchased a gun in June.

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