CHARLESTON - At any given time, the Kanawha County Board of Education is dealing with 30-40 lawsuits filed against it.
"That's the normal number," Board attorney Jim Withrow said. "Some of them don't have much merit, some of them do."
A case blaming the county for a faulty backing on the bleachers at Dupont Middle School in Belle did, apparently, because the Board's insurance company agreed to settle it for $40,000.
Randall Adkins, through his mother Iris, filed suit Jan. 13 in Kanawha Circuit Court against the Board, claiming that on Oct. 13, 2004, the backing gave way and caused his fall off the bleachers. Adkins was only 6 years old at the time and, according to the suit, suffered blunt chest trauma.
"I do know that, unfortunately, those bleachers in Dupont were in poor shape," Withrow said. "We have had several incidents with people being injured up there. It's unfortunate."
Though it also says he is believed to have made a full recovery, the Board's insurance company, National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, put $28,710.76 in a bank account to which Adkins will have access when he turns 18. The boy incurred more than $11,000 in medical expenses.
The lawsuit alleged that the Board had a duty to protect Adkins or anyone else who sat on the bleachers. Non-economic damages sought were endured pain and suffering, mental anguish and emotional distress, annoyance and inconvenience and the loss of ability to enjoy life.
Also paid were $10,000 in attorneys' fees to Ranson Law Offices and $1,000 to Charleston attorney William Forbes, who was appointed by Judge James Stucky to serve as Adkins' guardian ad litem. Forbes' job was to make sure no one tried to take advantage of the boy since he had no legal understanding of what was going on around him.
Adkins' settlement will be ready for him in 2016, almost 12 years after his spill.
"Typically when a lawsuit is settled with an individual under 18, they don't get the money right away," Withrow said. "There's a trust fund that's established that is set until the student or child is 18, and sometimes it's even spread out further depending on the structure of the settlement."
The suit was filed in January, and the settlement was finalized in August. The following is a look at the movements of several other lawsuits that were filed in Kanawha Circuit Court:
Ramona Vincent and Danny Vincent vs. Radioshack Corporation dba Radio Shack of St. Albans, R D Management Corp. and Appalachian Lawn & Landscaping LLC
PA-Samuel F. Hanna; J-Berger
Case number: 06-C-11
Ramona Vincent alleged that she slipped on a patch of ice in a parking lot and blamed three separate companies -- Radio Shack (the store in which she was about to go), R.D. Management Corp. (the owner of the St. Albans Mall) and Appalachian Lawn and Landscaping (the company that provided landscaping to the parking lot).
Attorney Norman Daniels of Daniels Law Firm said he was contacted by Radio Shack's insurance company and was supposed to work defense for the case, but it was settled "before I even got the file."
The case was then closed May 22. It was filed in January.
The lawsuit said that the defendants failed to warn the public of a dangerous situation that may be present, failed to maintain the parking lot as not to endanger the general public and failed to keep the parking lot, primarily used for business invitees, clean and in good repair.
Ramona's husband Danny sued for loss of consortium, and the couple also sought punitive damages. Before settling, the defendants' answer stated that Ramona Vincent "assumed the risk of injuries and damages of which she complains and consequently the actions of the plaintiff are barred by the doctrine of assumption of risk."
Jeffrey Mark Bricker v. City of Charleston, Corporal Pridemore and Officer Edwards
PA-Jason E. Huber; J-Walker
Case number: 06-C-998
When Bricker filed his lawsuit in May alleging that Pridemore and Edwards used excessive force while he was having a diabetic episode in his truck June 19, 2005, on the side of a road, he insisted that, "Any objectively reasonable police officer would have known that no probable cause, or even reasonable suspicion, existed to believe the plaintiff was impaired from drugs or alcohol."
The police, however, filed their answer to the complaint and say there was probable cause. They claim a woman observed Bricker parked in her driveway, talked to him and called 911 because she felt he was drunk and a danger to the children in the area.
"Thereafter, Plaintiff attempted to leave the citizen's driveway only to crash his vehicle, thereby blocking the road," the answer says.
Bricker claims that he was not able to comply with the officers' subsequent request to exit his car, and "Defendant Pridemore then unleashed a punishing attack on him which included punching the plaintiff in the stomach, kneeing him in the ribs and repeatedly striking him in the back of the head."
Bricker adds that he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence, five counts of resisting arrest and five counts of obstructing an officer, all of which were dropped by a Kanawha County magistrate.
Michael Mullins of Steptoe and Johnson is working as defense counsel for the police. Jason Huber of Forman and Huber in Charleston is representing Bricker, who seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as order for police personnel to undergo training for handling diabetic episodes.
On Dec. 18-19, eight depositions will be taken at Forman and Huber's office.
Coal River Mountain Watch v. Danny Ellis, Cabinet Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Transportation, et al.
PA-John Skaggs; J-Berger
Case number: 06-C-257
The next step in the case, in which Coal River Mountain Watch says coal transport trucks are being allowed to exceed Department of Transportation weight restrictions on bridges and roads and are causing damage to the Coal Resource Transportation System roads and citizens who live along them, will largely be determined by Judge Berger.
Scheduled for Jan. 8 is a hearing on the motion for summary judgment on behalf of intervenors West Virginia Coal Association and West Virginia Natural Resources Transporters Association will be held. At the same time, Berger will hear arguments on Skaggs' motion for summary judgment.
"It could accelerate the case, if she grants us this motion," Skaggs said.
Skaggs, of The Calwell Practice in Charleston, is seeking agreement on one of three issues: That the idea of the state Legislature managing roadways is unconstitutional because it should be the Department of Transportation's job; That the addition of certain roads in Webster, Nicholas and Braxton counties into the CRTS by the Legislature was unconstitutional; or the Legislature's creation of the CRTS was not a reasonable government purpose.
Skaggs says there is "all kinds of case law" to support the unconstitutionality of the creation of the CRTS, which occurred in 2003.
Coal River Mountain Watch's lawsuit was filed Feb. 10 against the DOT and Public Service Commission. DOT Legal Director Anthony Halkias has said that the real defendant should be the Legislature and not Cabinet Secretary Danny Ellis because Ellis does not have the authority to disobey the laws of the state.
A June 4, 2007, trial date has been set.
Valerie Strege v. Danny Jones, Mayor of the City of Charleston, et al.
PA-Nathan Hicks; J-Berger
Case number: 06-C-299
Judge Berger dismissed the case Oct. 26, saying Strege could not prove that the City of Charleston needed to use names from a promotions list to fill new police jobs that were created in July 2005.
Strege claimed she had been passed over for promotion when the Charleston City Council approved the new positions and was suing Jones, Police Chief Brent Webster, the Police Civil Service Commission and its President George Henderson, Vice President Thomas Smith and Commissioner Lew Tyree.
Robert E. Brown filed a similar lawsuit against the same defendants.
Strege, a sergeant, says she was overlooked for the position of lieutenant in 2005. The defense's Motion to Dismiss says she was overlooked because she finished 10th out of 13 applicants on an examination given to officers eligible for promotion.
"Petitioner's name had not risen to the top of the list to be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant prior to the expiration of the 2003 list and the administration of the 2005 promotion examination," the Motion says.
The lawsuits of Strege and Brown both were filed in February. Brown argues that he was overlooked for a promotion to corporal. The Motion to Dismiss argues that Brown finished 22nd out of 35 patrolmen eligible to become corporals on a 2003 exam. On the 2005 test, he was 21st out of 40
In June, Berger gave her opinion to Hicks on his client's legal standing and requested that he amend the complaint. Apparently, Hicks could not convince Berger that there was a claim for relief that was appropriate.