Lawyers who defend public shooting cases expect the Virginia Polytechnic Institute shooting victims or their families to sue their school, but say that such suits rarely prevail and that institutions can take steps to limit their liability exposure.

Mary Lynn Tate, principal of the Tate Law Firm in Abingdon, Va., was counsel to the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., in January 2002 when a deranged student killed three and wounded three others. Two years after the shootings, the family of slain student Angela Dales and three other student victims sued the school, alleging that school officials ignored students’ and staff warnings that the shooter, a student with chronic academic problems, was a threat. The plaintiffs settled for $1 million in January 2005.