Victims' cases still unsettled two years after gym rampage
The two-year anniversary of the LA Fitness shootings passed last week with a flurry of legal activity, but victims of gunman George Sodini's rampage have not received money for their legal efforts.
Allegheny County court records show 21 cases pending involving victims suing Sodini's estate, LA Fitness or both. Lawyers filed eight last week. Plaintiffs typically have two years from the date of an incident to file legal action.
"With this many plaintiffs, it's going to take a while," said Bruce Antkowiak, director of the criminology and law program at St. Vincent College. "It's usually two to three years before these things come to a head."
Sodini, 48, of Scott shot a dozen women when he opened fire on Aug. 4, 2009, inside the Collier gym before killing himself. Three of the victims died: Heidi Overmier, 46, of Carnegie; Jody Billingsley, 37, of Mt. Lebanon; and Elizabeth Gannon, 49, of Green Tree.
Court records show that Sodini's estate -- including his house, car and 401(k) -- was liquidated into about $210,000. How much money remains depends on a judge's decision regarding Sodini's $100,000 personal liability coverage with State Farm insurance.
"We're just now in the process of being able to decide how best to allocate the small amount of funds available. In this particular case, it took a while for the estate process to go forward," said attorney Paul Robinson, who represents shooting victim Heather Sherba.
State Farm filed paperwork last year claiming the policy did not apply because Sodini's actions were intentional and the policy covers accidents. Common Pleas Judge Paul F. Lutty heard arguments in June but did not issue a ruling. Attorneys said State Farm is in settlement discussions with the victims' attorneys. A spokesman for the company said he was unaware of settlement talks.
If State Farm pays on the policy, Sodini's estate would rise to more than $300,000, but with the number of victims, lawyers say that's not a lot of money to go around.
"There were so many shot and killed in this horrific melee, it's woefully inadequate," Robinson said. "It's nice that it doesn't involve a lot of litigation (for the estate money). Everyone knows what happened. There's no defense for claims against Mr. Sodini. Sodini was a madman."
Several lawsuits name LA Fitness as a defendant. Messages left at LA Fitness corporate offices in California were not returned.
"I think LA Fitness is liable here, and obviously, other attorneys did, too," said attorney Sidney Sokolsky, who represents Mary Ellen Buzzelli. Sokolsky last week filed a notice of intention to sue LA Fitness and Sodini's estate. He said his client was grazed by a bullet in the back of her neck.
"That guy got in with a gym bag, and that's what he had the guns in. They were negligent in surveilling the place," Sokolsky said.
If the company is found liable, that would mean more compensation for victims, but it wouldn't necessarily speed up the legal process.
Lawyers finalized a settlement for victims of Richard Baumhammers in 2009 -- nine years after the Mt. Lebanon attorney killed five people in two counties during a race-related rampage. A sixth person later died from his wounds.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers to retire Joe Greene’s jersey number
- Pirates’ Alvarez continues to sit, work on throwing woes
- Pittsburgh braces for waves of marches, demonstrations this week
- Lenders could move against Anchor Hocking as extension expires
- Starkey: Would one big move kill Pirates’ future?
- Steelers offensive linemen looking to build on strong 2013 finish
- Temple dumps SAT, ACT scores from application process
- Pirates inquire about Red Sox LHP Lester
- 6 cited for trespassing on UPMC property at union rally
- 2 sentenced for avoiding arrest after Steelers player was stabbed
- Western Pa. commission pitches $4.7 billion wish list to state