June 9-22, 2000
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Commonwealth setles third U.Va. balcony lawsuit

Commonwealth settles third U.Va. balcony lawsuit

By Louise Dudley

A third lawsuit arising from the collapse of a balcony at graduation three years ago has been settled for $750,000, pending court approval. The Commonwealth agreed to settle claims filed on behalf of the estate of Mary Josephine Brashear, the deceased wife of Thomas Brashear of El Paso, Texas.

Lawyers for the estate's beneficiaries filed a petition May 23 in Charlottesville Circuit Court requesting approval of the settlement, as required by state law. In April, lawsuits filed by Brashear and Judith Zura of Ellicott City, Maryland, were settled with payments of $340,000 and $450,000, respectively, from the state's risk management fund. The Commonwealth, the University, and all of their employees had denied any liability.

"It would be an unjust result to spend substantial funds litigating these cases to a successful conclusion," said U.Va. President John T. Casteen III. "All of us would rather see the money go toward fairly compensating those who were injured."

Bruce Rasmussen, attorney for Brashear and the estate, said his clients are pleased with the settlement. "We were ready and willing to take our cases to the courts, but the Commonwealth had very strong legal defenses that would have made our cases difficult. Our clients can now put this matter behind them and move on with their lives."

Thomas Albro, attorney for Zura, echoed these sentiments. "I think we all recognize these cases involved a unique set of facts about a hidden defect in a historic building, and a unique area of law regarding the Commonwealth's immunity from lawsuits."

University officials said they remain confident that the Commonwealth and the University employees would have prevailed in court, but obtaining final judicial resolution would likely take several more years and substantial investment of both public funds and the plaintiffs' personal resources.

There are two more lawsuits as yet unresolved, pending from the balcony accident.


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