The Iron Man has filed the first victim lawsuit stemming from the Parkland massacre, but it certainly won’t be the last. Fifteen-year-old Anthony Borges took five bullets while barricading the door to save his classmates, and will have to use a wheelchair for the foreseeable future. Borges and his family argue that the shooter’s future was foreseeable too, and that mental-health professionals had plenty of opportunity to stop him before he killed 17 and wounded many others:
The complaint, filed Tuesday in Broward Circuit Court, lists seven defendants, including Cruz, the family who housed him after his mother died, his mother’s estate, and several mental health centers that treated him before the massacre. All parties except the gunman are accused of acting negligently and failing to stop the 19-year-old from taking his AR-15, walking into his former high school, and killing 17 people.
Nicknamed the “Iron Man,” the high schooler will be confined to a wheelchair for the foreseeable future and will need intensive, constant care as he heals.
“We said from the onset that we are going to sue every single person who is remotely responsible for this happening, from the ground up,” Arreaza said. “This was the perfect storm of negligence.”
Some might wonder why the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and Broward School Board aren’t named as respondents to this lawsuit. After all, they had dozens of opportunities to intervene and passed on them repeatedly, despite warnings from students about threats, violence, and strange behavior. Don’t worry, though — they’re only off the hook temporarily. They’ll be getting plenty of attention from attorneys:
Borges, who survived the shooting, is one of a handful of victims to indicate an intent to sue the Broward School Board and the Broward Sheriff’s Office for failing to protect the students of Stoneman Douglas. Arreaza has said he intends to focus that lawsuit on a school discipline agreement that he says codified a reluctance to turn problem students over to the criminal justice system.
State agencies are entitled to six months’ notice before lawsuits are filed, so the first litigation naming the school district, the sheriff’s office and the Department of Children and Families as defendants are still months away.
Borges and fellow survivor Kyle Laman were the first to file notices of intent to sue those agencies. They were followed by survivors Elizabeth Stout and Fernanda Gadea and by the family of murdered victim Helena Ramsay.
The Ramsay family told the Sun-Sentinel that they will wait to file a suit until they can name everyone at once. Other families may choose to do the same, but Arreaza wanted to get a start on the court proceedings. It seems unlikely to come to trial before the six-month delay expires, so in the meantime Borges can put pressure on the mental health facilities and the Cruz family to come up with a settlement. The latter may have to wait, though, as all of the victims and families of the deceased will have a claim on the Cruz estate.
The Sneads have already issued a public response through their attorney:
Jim Lewis, the attorney for the Snead’s, said the couple told Cruz to lock up his gun and the family thought they had the only key. Lewis said the Sneads did nothing wrong.
“We feel so sorry for what happened at Stoneman Douglas,” Lewis told CBS Miami. “But the Sneads are not responsible — not morally, ethically or legally.”
Lewis worries about the chilling effect a lawsuit like this might have.
“What is this gonna say to anybody else out there who might think about taking in a troubled youth, to try to help them? They’re not gonna do it — not if they’re gonna be legally responsible for what they might do,” Lewis said.
That’s certainly one concern, but doesn’t taking in a troubled youth include a responsibility to address those troubles? And aren’t guardians and parents typically responsible for those issues? However, bear in mind too that Cruz was an adult at the time of this shooting, being 19 years old, a point at which the legal responsibility for parents of children and wards has already ended.
It seems that the inclusion of the Sneads is likely just some box-checking, though. The Sneads don’t have deep pockets; Broward County is the main target here through the sheriff’s office, Sheriff Scott Israel, and the school board. They’re going to pay through the nose — and they’ll deserve to lose every single dollar that these plaintiffs get.
Speaking of deep pockets, though, does anyone else notice who’s been left out of the lawsuit? It doesn’t appear that Borges will attempt to go after gun manufacturers or the NRA. It’s tough to do anyway, but it’s also tough to sue government agencies. The latter has real responsibility for this tragedy.