July 13, 2009
Milford not immune in bully case
By Barrett J. Brunsman
MIAMI TWP. – The 12th District Court of Appeals in Middletown on Monday upheld a Clermont County judge’s decision that the Milford School District doesn’t have immunity against claims of bullying.
A lawsuit filed last year on behalf of a boy who was bullied by fellow members of the Milford High School freshman basketball team can proceed against the coach and school district, and it could have national implications, a local attorney said.
“Little case law exists regarding (such) challenges,” said attorney Joe Braun of Strauss & Troy, who filed the suit on behalf of the boy and his family. “This area of the law is still developing, and it’s drawn national attention.
“I was recently contacted by attorneys in Tampa who were handling a case with similar facts,” Braun said. “They were looking to this case for guidance as Florida law had little precedent in this area as well.”
Even so, Ohio law is clear that the case against the school district and coach Thomas Kilgore should continue, Braun said.
An attorney handling the case for the school district, Bernard Wharton, didn’t respond to an Enquirer request for comment on the decision.
The Milford School District could appeal Monday’s ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court, or it could try to settle the suit or defend itself at trial.
The suit asks that the district and coach be ordered to pay unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.
Three teenagers admitted in Juvenile Court they bullied the boy, who was 14. They pinned their teammate to the ground and repeatedly punched him in the stomach.
One boy then tried to force sexual contact, according to the suit. That bully and his parents, Karen and Thomas C. Settles, are also named as defendants, but they were not part of the appeal.
The appeals court overruled Judge Jerry R. McBride of Common Pleas Court in tossing out a claim of negligent supervision against the school district and coach.
However, the appeals court upheld McBride’s ruling that the school district and coach could be sued on a claim of civil hazing or bullying.
The lawsuit alleges the coach “contributed to and encouraged a pattern of hazing and bullying activities which eventually led to the assault,” Judge William Young noted in the unanimous decision of a three-member panel of the appeals court.