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Lawyer: Oxford High School lawsuits will bring challenges to both parties

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Parents of Michigan high school shooting suspect appear in court on manslaughter charges

Students hug outside Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan, Wednesday, December 1.

OXFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WJRT) - Last week, the parents of a student injured during the Oxford High School shooting filed two lawsuits claiming school officials didn’t do enough to prevent the tragedy.

The lawsuits are raising questions from families and civil case attorneys: Do parents even have a case with schools having so much protection?

It’s very rare to see a lawsuit be brought against a school, even after a tragic incident like the Oxford shooting, because schools have qualified immunity.

“In this case, qualified governmental immunity isn’t just a defense against liability, but it's a defense against some of the burden of litigation,” Grand Blanc attorney Michael Rizik said.

Detroit attorney Geoffrey Fieger filed the separate cases in federal court on behalf of Jeffrey and Brandi Franz for their daughters. Riley, 17, was shot in the neck on Nov. 30 and her sister, 14-year-old Bella, was next to her during the shootings.

Defendants in the lawsuits include Oxford Community Schools, Superintendent Tim Throne, the Oxford High School principal, counselors, the dean of students, two teachers and another staff member.

Rizik said it’s a tricky lawsuit to examine due to school officials being included as a type of public official.

“The public officials need to have shown deliberate indifference and the liability is created by gross negligence,” he said. “If you can’t prove those things, you can’t get around it.”

Not many school shooting lawsuits have been successful, including lawsuits filed against Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut following the 2012 massacre.

On Thursday, a $26 million settlement was announced in the deadly February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people died.

School district will pay more than $26 million to Parkland shooting victims and families

Rizik said the judge on the Oxford lawsuit, Terrence Berg, must first decide whether the case can move forward.

“They will have to look at the facts as the facts are known right now,” he said. “There will be a motion in court for a preliminary determination on whether or not there is this qualified immunity. And all the facts that are known to this day will then be brought out and that's how it starts.”

A motion was made earlier from the school district, asking the judge to dismiss the case following the plaintiff’s lawyer Geoffrey Fieger mistakenly naming the former dean of students in claim.

No progress has been made since the lawsuits were filed.

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