11/09/07 — Lawsuit filed over severed fingertip

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Lawsuit filed over severed fingertip

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on November 9, 2007 2:05 PM

The severed tip of a kindergartner's finger is the subject of a lawsuit filed this week against Wayne County Schools, court records show.

The lawsuit alleges that unsupervised trips to the bathroom at Rosewood Elementary School were the cause of injuries to a 5-year-old in 2004.

The child stuck his finger into a bathroom door latch that had been sharpened from frequent use, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Monday, seeks "damages in excess of $10,000" for both the child and his father, James L. Laws Sr., for "injury to body parts, loss of body parts and use of body parts."

His father seeks payment for past and future medical bills, and the lawsuit also asks that legal fees be taxed to the Wayne County School District.

Named as defendants were the Wayne County Board of Education, Superintendent Steven D. Taylor, Board Chairman Shirley Sims and Jenny Whitfield, principal at the elementary school.

Donald K. Phillips of the Goldsboro law firm Brantley, Jenkins, Riddle, Hardee & Hardee is representing the Laws and the boy's guardian, grandmother Patricia Worley of Beacon Drive, Princeton, court records show.

According to allegations in the lawsuit, the 5-year-old was a member of Elisa Hatem's kindergarten class.

Mrs. Hatem and other teachers would provide supervised group trips to a bathroom near class, court records show.

When a student needed to use the bathroom outside of the scheduled time, the students would ask for unaccompanied bathroom trips, the lawsuit alleges.

When the 5-year-old took a 10:30 a.m. bathroom break on Nov. 10, 2004, school workers heard a shout from the bathroom, court records show.

That's when the child's finger was injured, court records show.

Mrs. Hatem and other teachers saw the tip of the child's finger on the floor, which they then put on ice in a zippered plastic bag for emergency workers, the lawsuit states.

County schools spokesman Ken Derksen said the district was not yet aware of the lawsuit, having not been served with subpoenas or other court documents.

However, Derksen said, school officials are traditionally mum about matters involving pending litigation.

Donald K. Phillips, who is representing the Laws and the child's grandmother, was out of the office until Monday, a secretary at his law firm said.