Jackson school board also named as co-defendant in fight lawsuit

By Lawrence Smith | Mar 23, 2009

RIPLEY - In addition to one alleging failure to adequately handle a sexual assault at Ripley Middle, the Jackson County Board of Education is also defending itself against a lawsuit alleging it failed to timely stop a fight between two students at Ripley High School.

Five days before Catherine Fields filed hers on behalf of her daughter, R.F., Robin Hart filed a lawsuit against the Board in Jackson Circuit Court alleging school officials were slow to intervene in a fight between her son, Zachary, and Derek Scott Simons in 2007. Simons is named as a co-defendant in the suit.

According to her complaint, filed with the assistance of Travis E. Ellison III, with the Charleston law firm of John R. Mitchell, Hart alleges both Zachery and Simons were students at RHS in 2007. The suit does not state their ages or grade levels at the time.

However, on Nov. 27, 2007 a fight occurred between Zachery and Simons "on the grounds of RHS and in the presence of teachers and principals." Nothing is stated in court records as to who initiated the fight and what disciplinary action, if any, was taken against the boys.

Nevertheless, Hart maintains that the Board failed Zachery by "keep[ing] and maintain[ing] the school in a reasonably safe and secure condition" and "to control the conduct of defendant Derek Simons." As a result of the fight, Hart alleges Zachery suffered facial contusions, headaches, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, a disc bulge and neck pain.

Though she is not specific, Hart says in her suit that the negligence of Simons and the Board caused her "to expend large sums for medical and hospital expenses" since the fight and in the future.

She is seeking unspecified damages.

Similarities to Kanawha suit

Hart's lawsuit is similar to one a month earlier in Kanawha Circuit Court by a Riverside High School student. In that suit, Charles Edward Perry alleges both Jeffrey Cottrell and the Kanawha County Board of Education were responsible for the injuries he sustained following a fight with Cottrell on Feb. 4, 2007.

Like Hart, Perry alleges the fight between he and Cottrell occurred in the presence of school personnel. Because they owed him a duty to keep the school reasonably safe, Perry is asking that Cottrell and the Board compensate him for the "large sums for medical expenses and hospital expenses" he has and will incur.

Perry's suit was also filed by the Mitchell law firm with Mitchell handling it personally.

Since then, the Board filed its answer to Perry's suit. On March 10, the Board, via its attorney Julie Meeks with the Charleston law firm of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown and Poe denied nearly all of Perry's allegations except that Cottrell was a Riverside student the date of the fight.

Also, the Board asserted a defense saying that it had no control over Cottrell's conduct and that, in addition to failing to mitigate his damages, Perry's injuries were a result of a pre-existing condition.

Cottrell has yet to file his answer to Perry's suit.

Hart's case in Jackson County has been assigned to Judge Thomas C. Evans III.

Jackson Circuit Court Case No 09-C-22 (Hart), Kanawha Circuit Court Case No. 09-C-180 (Perry)

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