Surviving families of UAH shooting file wrongful death lawsuit

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Wrongful death lawsuits have been filed in the wake of the UA Huntsville shooting. The university provost, accused shooter Amy Bishop Anderson and her husband, Jim Anderson are all named in the suits.

The families of Dr. Maria Ragland Davis and Dr. Adriel Johnson filed the lawsuits Friday. They allege Dr. Vistasp Darbhari, the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs had a responsibility to protect faculty members from Bishop.

Bishop is accused of shooting six colleagues during a faculty meeting February 12th, 2010. Three of the victims survived and three died from their injuries.

[Click here to read more about UAH shooting]

The lawsuit cites an "inexcusable failure to abide by mandatory life-safety regulations that would have prevented the shootings."

"Those life safety regulations mandate that the individual be referred to police or council services to get the appropriate services and threat assessment. Those policies were not followed in this case," said attorney Douglas Fierberg, who was hired by the families of Davis and Johnson. "She made threats to others. She hounded other staff members, harassed them."

According to the lawsuit, Dr. Karbhari was aware of Bishop's instability. It cites concerns from students, a petition from students for Bishop's removal, and complaints from faculty members.

The lawsuit quotes an unidentified professor whose response after the campus shooting was, "Oh my God, I bet it was Amy Bishop."

"When there are individuals on campus that are experiencing psychological crisis, those individuals need to be handled appropriately," said Fierberg.

This lawsuit goes on to discuss Bishop's criminal history, including the shooting death of her brother and the assault on a fellow diner at a Massachusetts restaurant.

The family members want this case to be decided by a jury. They are asking for punitive damages from Karbhari, Bishop, and Anderson. They also list two fictitious defendants to be named later.

"Our family lost a loving wife and mother when Dr. Maria Ragland Davis was murdered by her mentally ill colleague at the University of Alabama in Huntsville," said her husband Sammie Lee Davis.  "Nothing will ever bring her back.  Today, we seek to bring to account those who are responsible for, and those who should have prevented, her death.  We hope this action will help prevent future tragedies by educating the public on a university's responsibilities when dealing with people under severe psychological distress."

"I hope that the lawsuit filed today will save others from suffering the loss of a family member in a campus tragedy that could, and should, have been prevented," said Roderick Ragland, Dr. Davis' brother.

[Click here for suit filed by Davis' family (PDF)]

Dr. Johnson, an associate professor of biological science, joined UAH in 1989.  He earned a Ph.D. in animal science and nutritional physiology from North Carolina State University.  He taught multiple biology courses at UAH for more than 20 years and during that time was a distinguished and honored faculty member as well as a dedicated UAH alumnus.

[Click here for suit filed by Johnson's family (PDF)]

Dr. Johnson was a leader in the efforts to increase the diversification of the faculty and student body at UAH, including serving as advisor for the Minority Graduate Student Association and Campus Director of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

"In honoring Dr. Adriel D. Johnson, Sr.'s commitment to bettering the lives of others, we are today, filing suit against those who are responsible for, and should have prevented, his brutal death at the University of Alabama in Huntsville," said Dr. Jacqueline U. Johnson, his surviving spouse.  "We believe this action will further educate and heighten the awareness of the public on the need for universities to protect others by acting appropriately when confronted with students or staff experiencing severe psychological distress.  We seek to enforce important legal standards that may prevent other families from suffering as we have."

UAH released the following statement about the lawsuits:

"The university expresses once again its deep regret for the loss of life and injuries that occurred as a result of the violent, criminal act carried out on this campus on February 12. While it is clear that blame for this loss must be placed squarely on the perpetrator of this horrible crime, the university has worked diligently to ensure that the families of our deceased employees receive all available work-related benefits. The university is saddened by the decision to sue Dr. Vistasp Karbhari and does not agree that Dr. Karbhari, or anyone associated with the university, could have predicted or prevented this random act of violence. The university will vigorously defend this lawsuit and is confident that the outcome will exonerate Dr. Karbhari."

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