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COA affirms $120,000 for student attacked at school

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A former Gary high school student is entitled to $120,000 in damages following an attack in a hallway during school, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday. Gary Community School Corp. appealed the jury award.

Prince Lardydell was a freshman at West Side High School when he was attacked in the hallway by several individuals for nearly 10 minutes. A teacher heard the attack and pressed a panic button. He had screamed for help but school safety personnel did not arrive until after the attack had ended and his attackers fled.

He and his mother, Erma, sued the school corporation. At trial, Andrea Ledbetter, who served on the school corporation’s board at the time of the attack, testified about a video of the attack she watched during an executive session. The jury found in favor of the Lardydells and awarded $120,000.

GCS argued the trial court shouldn’t have let Ledbetter testify about the video she watched during the executive session because the doctrine of qualified privilege applies to all discussions held during its board’s executive sessions.

Indiana’s Open Door Law is silent as to whether discussions during executive sessions are privileged or whether persons present during an executive session can be barred from disclosing what occurred during an executive session. GCS does not cite to any authority which has applied the doctrine of qualified privilege, or any other privilege, to bar board members of public agencies from testifying about all discussions during executive sessions, Senior Judge Card Darden wrote in Gary Community School Corporation v. Prince Lardydell b/n/f Erma Lardydell, 45A03-1306-PL-230.  

Ledbetter described in detail to the jury the video, a video that was not among those that GCS had disclosed to the Lardydells during discovery. The COA noted that Ledbetter complied with the trial court’s limitation that she not testify about communications that occurred during executive sessions.

GCS also argued the trial court erred in giving Final Instruction 12 because it misstated the law and allowed the jury to determine that GCS was negligent without first deciding whether the school breached the standard of ordinary and reasonable care. The instruction merely provided that if the Lardydells proved certain facts “beyond the weight of the evidence,” then the jury “may infer” negligence. The jury wasn’t obligated by the terms of the instruction to find negligence and GCS was free to submit evidence to rebut any inference of negligence, the judges held.

The school corporation also claimed the trial court should have granted its motion for a new trial or to alter or amend the judgment because the $120,000 award is unsupported by the evidence. Before the attack, Prince had aspirations to attend college and was an average student. After the attack, he experienced severe depression, was afraid to go outside and moved to Indianapolis. His academic performance also suffered at his new high school. Even six years after the attack, he is only able to find part-time work and is still concerned about leaving his house.

The Court of Appeals declined to second-guess the jury’s decision.   
 

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