Virginia first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner is seen in court as she fights for $40M in damages after being shot in class by disturbed six-year-old boy

A Virginia first grade teacher who was shot in class by a six-year-old student appeared in court on Friday as she bids to claim $40 million in damages.

Abby Zwerner is suing Newport News Public Schools for $40 million, alleging gross negligence against school administrators.

But the school board is trying to block the lawsuit, arguing that Zwerner’s injuries fall under workers’ compensation, and as such are limited to 10 years’ pay and limited medical benefits.

Zwerner, 26, spent two weeks in hospital after the January incident, which saw a bullet hit her hand and chest.

She accuses the school of ignoring warnings that the boy had a gun in his backpack.

Moments after the shooting, the six-year-old told a reading specialist who restrained him: ‘I shot that (expletive) dead’ and ‘I got my mom’s gun last night,’ according to search warrants.

Abby Zwerner is suing Newport News Public Schools for $40 million, alleging gross negligence against school administrators

Zwerner's lawyers are arguing that the administrators at her school were grossly negligent and ignored reports that the child had a gun in his backpack

Zwerner’s lawyers are arguing that the administrators at her school were grossly negligent and ignored reports that the child had a gun in his backpack

Zwerner, 26, was shot by a six-year-old student in January who then bragged about the incident

Zwerner, 26, was shot by a six-year-old student in January who then bragged about the incident

Zwerner attended Friday’s hearing before a judge with her left arm still supported by a sling and her left hand wrapped in a thick, cloth bandage.

One of her attorneys, Kevin Biniazan, asked the judge to allow Zwerner’s lawsuit to proceed to trial because ‘no first-grade teacher expects to be shot at work.’

‘The particular danger of encountering a firearm is not in the nature of employment for a first-grade teacher,’ Biniazan said.

But Anne Lahren, an attorney for the school board, said the incident ‘falls squarely’ under workers’ compensation because Zwerner was working in her capacity as a teacher.

And Zwerner’s lawsuit centers on allegations of negligence at her workplace, which also fall under the law, Lahren added.

Robert Samuel, another school board lawyer, said: ‘This doesn’t mean that Ms. Zwerner doesn’t get benefits and is left out in the cold.’

Matthew Hoffman, a circuit court judge in Newport News, said he’ll rule on the matter in the next week.

Matthew Hoffman, a circuit court judge in Newport News, is deciding whether Zwerner's case should be before a worker's tribunal or in criminal court

Matthew Hoffman, a circuit court judge in Newport News, is deciding whether Zwerner’s case should be before a worker’s tribunal or in criminal court

Zwerner is seen outside court on Friday, standing next to her lawyers. She did not speak

Zwerner is seen outside court on Friday, standing next to her lawyers. She did not speak

Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, where the shooting occurred. Several parents have filed a lawsuit against the school for not protecting their kids

Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, where the shooting occurred. Several parents have filed a lawsuit against the school for not protecting their kids 

Zwerner was shot as she sat at a reading table in the classroom

Zwerner was shot as she sat at a reading table in the classroom

He will have to decide whether Zwerner’s allegations can move forward in court or if they belong before the workers’ compensation commission.

After the hearing, Zwerner stood with her attorneys outside the courtroom.

She declined to answer direct questions from a gaggle of reporters, her face holding back emotion.

‘It’s an overwhelming moment for her — I think we have to appreciate that,’ Biniazan said.

‘It’s all culminating in some ways on today. So, as much as Abby may have thoughts and comments, they’re all swirling around in her head, probably faster than she can articulate them. So I hope you can excuse her in speaking through us.’

Zwerner says administrators ignored multiple warnings the boy had a gun that day and had routinely dismissed ongoing concerns about his troubling behavior.

Legal experts say Zwerner’s lawsuit faces an uphill battle under Virginia’s uncommonly strict workers’ compensation law, which covers allegations of negligence.

Meanwhile, the mother of the six-year-old boy who shot Zwerner is still awaiting sentencing for felony child neglect.

Deja Taylor arrives at federal court on June 12 in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Her 6-year-old shot his teacher in a classroom

Deja Taylor arrives at federal court on June 12 in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Her 6-year-old shot his teacher in a classroom

Taylor pleaded guilty in June to using marijuana while possessing a firearm. Authorities said she lied about her drug use on a federal background check form when she bought the gun that her son took to school

 Taylor pleaded guilty in June to using marijuana while possessing a firearm. Authorities said she lied about her drug use on a federal background check form when she bought the gun that her son took to school

Deja Taylor’s sentencing was scheduled for Friday afternoon but postponed until December.

Court records indicate the delay comes at the request of both the defense and prosecutors, in part because a report was not yet available from the guardian ad litem.

In Virginia, a guardian ad litem is appointed to represent the interests of the child in cases alleging neglect.

Taylor, 25, faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty, though prosecutors will recommend only a six-month sentence as part of a plea deal.

Taylor told police she believed her 9mm handgun was secured at home with a trigger lock. But authorities said they never found a lock during searches of the home.

Taylor’s son told authorities he climbed onto a drawer to reach the top of a dresser, where the weapon was in her purse. He concealed the gun in his backpack and then his pocket before shooting his teacher in front of the class, prosecutors said.

Taylor has pleaded guilty separately to using marijuana while owning a gun, which is illegal under U.S. law, and will be sentenced in federal court next month.

A plea deal in that case calls for 18 to 24 months behind bars. 

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