A Hendersonville family has filed a lawsuit against the Sumner County Board of Education for damages up to $750,000 claiming the school system’s negligence caused their son to break his leg while cleaning bleachers at T.W. Hunter Middle School in 2012.
Donald and Melissa Crockett allege in the suit, filed in Sumner County Circuit Court March 14, that a teacher at T.W. Hunter punished a group of students, including their 13-year-old son, by making them clean the overflow from a toilet in the boy’s locker room on June 28, 2012.
According to the complaint, the boys’ locker room was flooded and heavily saturated and the students did not have the appropriate equipment or apparel to engage in janitorial work. The Crocketts’ son was wearing tennis shoes that became saturated from water while he cleaned the locker room, the suit said. When they finished the cleaning, the students were told by the teacher to remove trash from the school’s bleachers.
The Crockett’s son was walking between the bleachers when he fell and broke his right leg. Because the boy’s shoes had absorbed water, the soles had little or no traction and caused him to slip, the complaint said.
The Crocketts’ attorney said the couple’s son, now 14, continues to deal with long-term damage to his leg. The teen can’t run or participate in athletic or physical activities, said Sean Martin, a Nashville attorney representing the family.
“This was a very severe, gruesome injury,” Martin said.
The suit claims the school system and county are not immune under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act, which specifies the kinds of claims for which municipal governments can be liable and sets limits for the damages. Generally, such governments are only liable for damages caused by certain acts of employee negligence or by dangerous and defective infrastructure for which they are made aware. Under the act, damage claims against a governmental body are limited to $300,000 per person or $1 million for a single act.
Because the overflow in the locker room created an “obvious, dangerous or defective condition” and the teacher knowingly required the student to negotiate a second dangerous condition immediately after by picking up trash from bleachers, the district does not have the defense of immunity, the suit claims.
“One of the major questions we have is why wasn’t the janitorial staff or a custodian cleaning the bathroom or the bleachers?” Martin said. “These kids were there for summer school, not for any other purpose.”
County Law Director Leah May Dennen, who is defending the school board in the lawsuit, denied that there was negligence involved in the student’s injury.
“The school systems are not the insurers of the safety of students,” she said.
Dennen declined to address whether school policy or procedure was followed when the students were told to clean the locker room.
“I think the facts are going to come out (and show) that there’s just more to this,” Dennen said.
Contact Jennifer Easton at 575-7143 or firstname.lastname@example.org.