06/06/04 — Jury orders schools to pay $250,000 for bleacher accident

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Jury orders schools to pay $250,000 for bleacher accident

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on June 6, 2004 2:01 AM

A jury has ordered the Wayne County public school system to pay $250,000 to a man who fell off the bleachers at a high school basketball game.

Richard G. Carter of Wilson had sued the Wayne County Board of Education for negligence because of injuries that he had sustained in 1997 during a collapse of bleachers at Southern Wayne High School.

The lawsuit had contended that Carter was walking up the bleachers on Dec. 2, 1997, and two sections of the bleachers separated, causing him to lose his balance and fall backwards. Carter's right leg, left hip and ankle and several fingers were injured, the suit alleged.

"We're very pleased," one of Carter's lawyers, Gene Riddle of Goldsboro, said Friday after court. "We felt like the jury handed down the proper verdict."

Carter hugged his wife and Riddle after the jury's decision.

The schools declined comment.

Carter suffered permanent injuries, but no broken bones, to his lower right leg from the fall, Riddle said.

"It swells every day, and he has pain almost every day," Riddle said. "But he did not let it destroy his work. He continued to work and live. He is a survivor. That's one reason I think the jury awarded him the compensation that we requested."

Riddle said he and co-counsel David Orcutt, the lawyer for the Wilson County Board of Education, presented to the jurors a formula to derive the monetary award.

"We suggested figures to them, but not more than $250,000," Riddle said. "We gave them a formula. If they used it, they would have concluded compensation in the range of $250,000."

Riddle emphasized later that the money will not come from the taxpayers. The award will be paid by the school board's insurance carrier.

"The public needs to understand that I wouldn't take a case that would impact the taxpayers of the county," Riddle said. "I've been told that this won't impact the taxpayer."

Jury selection began Tuesday and was completed Wednesday before Judge Ernest Fullwood of Wilmington.

Among the witnesses called by Riddle and Orcutt were Dr. Robert Richards, a board certified family practice physician from Elm City; Dr. Gilbert Whitmer, an orthopedic surgeon from Carolina Regional Orthopedics; Jimmy Wells, the retired Wayne County school maintenance director; Danny Langley, the current maintenance director; Lynn Green, a retired teacher and coach from Wilson County, and the plaintiff and his wife.

Riddle said some witnesses were helpful, but others were not willing to testify and had to be subpoenaed.

"You have to remember that the information I obtained" from the two maintenance workers, "I had to drag out of them," the lawyer said.

The school board, represented by lawyer Jeremy Lindsley of Durham, did not put on any evidence.

When Riddle was asked why the defense did not put on a case, he said, "I guess they felt we did not present enough evidence."

The lawyers then offered brief closing arguments on Thursday afternoon.

The jury of nine women and three men deliberated for less than an hour Thursday when court was recessed. They returned Friday morning and reached a verdict at 12:50 p.m.