Tuesday, October 31st, 2006
Parkway is sued for over $1 million
Mendon man seeks damages for daughter's death
By Shelley Grieshop
A Mendon man has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking more than $1.5 million from the Parkway school district, its school board and a former golf coach for the traffic death of his daughter two years ago.
James Shaffer, 11661 state Route 707, also is seeking the monetary damages from Mercer and Van Wert counties, through their county commissioners, for failing to provide a safe roadway.
On Oct. 5, 2004, Shaffer's 15-year-old daughter, Brittany, was killed when the car she was riding in traveled off Tomlinson Road, near Mercer-Van Wert County Line Road, and came to rest in a creek after rolling down an embankment. A sophomore at Parkway High School, she was ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene. The car's driver, Trisha Strawn, sustained serious injuries.
Brittany Shaffer and Strawn, 17, of Mendon, were members of the school's golf team and on their way home from a sectional tournament at Kalida when the accident occurred. The tournament took place during school hours.
The civil suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Western Division, in Toledo, because Shaffer claims his daughter's Constitutional rights were violated by the school as a "political subdivision" and those violations led to her death.
In court documents filed this month, Shaffer admits his daughter and Strawn did not qualify for the sectional tournament in Kalida and that the school principal refused to excuse them from school for the tournament and also refused to provide them transportation.
Shaffer claims golf coach Phillip Winings of Rockford instructed Brittany Shaffer and Strawn to "have their parents call them in sick to school" and "drive to the city of Van Wert," where Winings met them and drove them to the competition.
After the tournament, the entire team and Winings ate together in Van Wert before Shaffer and Strawn headed home just before 5:30 p.m., Shaffer alleges. Strawn was southbound on Tomlinson Road in Mercer County when she lost control of the 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier.
Shaffer claims his daughter's U.S. and Ohio Constitutional rights were violated when the school failed and refused to provide his daughter transportation, a district-approved driver and supervision as specified in the school's policy, during the district-sponsored trip.
Shaffer also claims the school violated its policy of requiring students to be present at school during school hours when Winings insisted Brittany disregard that policy and attend the sectional competition. Winings, the court document states, "acted with malicious purpose, in bad faith, and/or in a wanton or reckless manner."
Both Mercer and Van Wert counties are accused of negligence in the federal case for failing to provide a safe roadway. Mercer County, through its employees, is accused of failing to warn motorists of an upcoming directional change on Tomlinson Road, which is hidden by a crest, or remove the crest, the court complaint states.
Van Wert County is accused of the same allegation and an additional failure to erect a stop sign at the intersection of Tomlinson and Mercer-Van Wert County roads, which is within the northern county's jurisdiction.
The intersection was a three-way stop prior to the accident, but Van Wert County officials now have made it a four-way stop.
In all, Shaffer seeks $500,000 from all defendants in the case for the violation of his daughter's rights; $500,000 plus interest from all defendants for liquidated damages; $500,000 in punitive damages from Winings; and $25,000 for a wrongful death claim on behalf of James Shaffer, his wife, Leigh Ann, and the couple's two sons, Brian and Bradley.
Shaffer is represented in the case by local attorney Matthew Chapel of Celina and Dianna M. Anelli of Columbus. The pair told The Daily Standard that Winings' actions are the key to the case and evidence will show those actions led to Brittany Shaffer's death.
When asked why they are seeking such a large amount of money, they said it represents the seriousness of the case. They also said they realize no amount of money can bring the Shaffers' daughter back but this case is about justice.
"The only justice the Shaffers can get for the Constitutional violations is a monetary compensatory award for the death of their child," Chapel said. "We're looking for justice."
The attorneys stressed the case is purely based on the violation of Constitutional rights against Brittany Shaffer, and they are upset that the school district brought the Strawn family into the lawsuit.
"It's imperative that the public understand we did not bring the Strawns in," Anelli said, adding the Strawn family cannot be liable for violating Brittany's Constitutional rights like a government entity can.