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Wrongful Death and Criminal Acts

A former provost at the University of Alabama in Huntsville has asked a judge to throw out the wrongful death suit filed against him following Amy Bishop’s 2010 shooting rampage.

Bishop, a professor at UAH, shot two people to death and injured three others following a faculty meeting. Bishop was angry that she was earlier denied tenure. She is currently serving a life sentence without parole after pleading guilty to the shooting deaths. The family members of slain faculty members Maria Davis and Adriel Johnson subsequently sued UAH Provost Dr. Vistap Karbhari and President Dr. David Williams, alleging that these university officials knew that Bishop was angry and unstable, and failed to take any corrective action.

Elements of a wrongful death suit

Dr. Karbhari’s attorneys argue that Dr. Karbhari did not cause the deaths of the faculty members. Cause, both cause-in-fact and proximate cause, is an essential element in any negligence case. There can be no intervening cause that comes between the plaintiff’s injuries and the defendant’s conduct. A criminal act, especially one that is random and unpredictable, is generally an intervening cause in a negligence case. Alabama law holds that a criminal act may not always be an intervening cause in all cases.

  • Relationship between the parties: If there is a special relationship between the parties, such as lawyer/client, doctor/patient or some other fiduciary relationship where there is a heightened duty of care, a crime is not an intervening cause in a negligence case.
  • Foreseeability: In this case, the plaintiffs argue that Dr. Karbhari ignored warning signs that Bishop was dangerous. Dr. Kharbari denies these allegations.
  • Voluntary duty: If a defendant begins to take steps to protect a plaintiff from a crime, and then abandons that course of action, the defendant may nevertheless be liable.

At McPhillips Shinbaum, our attorneys represent clients in Montgomery County, Autauga County, Elmore County and throughout Alabama. To speak with a lawyer about your wrongful death claim, contact us to schedule your free initial consultation.