Settlement Offers in Columbine Suits
DENVER (AP) _ The parents of the Columbine High School gunmen and a man who supplied the two boys with weapons offered a $1.6 million settlement that could include the families of as many as 37 victims.
The defendants, however, have not negotiated with relatives of most of those who died in the April 20, 1999, attack, the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
``Since before the lawsuits were filed, the parties and the attorneys understood that the parents of the deceased are in a separate position than those who are injured,″ said attorney Jim Rouse, who represents the families of six slain students.
``All the other injured and deceased parties have taken it upon themselves to negotiate settlements,″ he said.
The offer came in a Nov. 20 letter to the families of 10 wounded students and three who were killed, all represented by a group of attorneys led by Stephen Wahlberg.
Other parties to the settlement could include six families represented by Rouse and 18 families who haven’t filed claims, according to the letter.
The letter was sent by C. Michael Montgomery on behalf of the families of gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and Mark Manes, who supplied one of the guns used in the attack. Harris and Klebold killed 12 students and one teacher before killing themselves during the rampage. Nearly two dozen others were injured.
The offer was the first formal proposal stemming from the shooting, Montgomery said.
In a news conference Wednesday, Wahlberg said negotiations began in earnest during the past three months because of the defendants’ limited resources. The money for the settlement would apparently come from homeowners insurance.
``The offer is contingent upon the settlement fully and finally resolving all of the claims of all of the victims and victims’ families to whom the offer is being made,″ the letter said.
Legal analyst Scott Robinson said the pending lawsuits could be hampered by the apparent separation of the students who were wounded and those who were killed.
``It might be a strategy by the defense to divide and conquer,″ he said. ``That may be a reality going on with the insurance company.″
Attorneys fear the leak to the media during negotiations could derail the settlement.
``They are very preliminary, and they are very sensitive,″ said Bob Schuetze, an attorney for wounded student Casey Ruegsegger. ``All the parties would like to resolve the matter short of litigation. I certainly hope this does not prevent that.″
The letter was sent after lawyers representing wounded students Sean Graves and Lance Kirklin requested about $3 million in insurance coverage from the Harrises, Klebolds and three other defendants.
Wahlberg’s clients and other plaintiffs have until Dec. 22 to file final amended lawsuits in federal court under a schedule set Monday. A hearing is scheduled for April 27, Montgomery said.
Nine wrongful-death and negligence lawsuits are pending in federal court on behalf of about 20 victims’ families. Other defendants not included in the settlement talks include the Jefferson County school district and sheriff’s office.