West Virginia State University is located in Institute in western Kanawha County.

INSTITUTE – A former West Virginia State University student has named her alma mater as the co-defendant in a personal injury lawsuit, and she is represented by a law firm whose senior partner is a prominent alumnus of the school, and, at one time, served as its academic dean.

On July 24, Keisha Hankins filed suit against Shambin Construction of Sissonville and WVSU alleging they were negligent in properly maintaining a sidewalk near her apartment on 303 Douglass St. In her suit, Hankins alleges that on Sept. 8, 2004, she "was injured when she fell on an unsafe walkway adjacent to her apartment."

Hankins, 27, further alleges Shamblin and WVSU "exercised control of all areas of property surrounding and leading to [her] apartment." Because of this, Hankins says "defendants negligently failed to provide and maintain reasonably safe access, entry and exit to plaintiff's residence."

Representing Hankins is the Charleston law firm of Bickley and Jacobs. The firm's senior partner, Nelson Bickley graduated from State in 1952 when the school was still a segregated institution.

Founded in 1891 as the West Virginia Colored Institute, State started accepting white students in August 1954 after the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown decision in found segregation of educational institutions unconstitutional. State was granted university status by the West Virginia Legislature in 2004.

According to the firm's Web site, Bickley served as State's dean for academic affairs from 1975 to 1977. He left State to obtain a law degree from West Virginia University.
He did and was admitted to the West Virginia State Bar in 1980.

Though Bickley is listed on the firm's Web site, he is living in Florida and not actively practicing law according to the Bar. Hankins' case is being handled by the firm's other senior partner, J. Patrick Jacobs.

Shamblin, State deny any negligence

In its reply dated Aug. 29, State says its bears no responsibility in any injuries Hankins may have sustained from her fall. Through its attorney, Charles R. Bailey, of the Charleston law office of Bailey and Wyant, the incident was "an unavoidable emergency and act of God."

Though it denies any wrongdoing, State incorporated Hankins' allegations into a cross suit it filed against Shamblin. If anyone is to blame, Bailey said in the suit, it's those that did the actual work on the sidewalk, and they will be the ones to pay for any settlement awarded to Hankins.

Shamblin, Bailey said, owed State "a duty to exercise reasonable care to eliminate dangers, hazardous areas and maintain safe premises."

Through its attorney, Wendy G. Greve of the Charleston law office of Pullin, Flanaghan and Fowler, Shamblin likewise denied any wrongdoing. The injuries Hankins sustained, Greve said, were totally avoidable.

Any "injuries and damages about which the plaintiff complains…were a proximate result of the negligence on the part of the plaintiff," Greve said.

Hankins, Greve said, "failed to keep a proper lookout," and "that any hazard about which the plaintiff complains was open and obvious."
According to court records, Shamblin filed its reply on Sept. 19, and did not answer to State's cross claim.

The case is before Judge Irene C. Burger.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 06-C-1467

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