OLYMPIA — The Washington State Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that the Moses Lake School District was not responsible for injuries sustained by a student in shop class roughly a decade ago.
The ruling affirms a Grant County Superior Court trial verdict in February 2016, that the district only had an obligation to provide “ordinary duty of care” for students, and not a “heightened duty,” as the student claimed.
“This is good news for the school district, and for school districts all around the state,” said Jerry Moberg, the Moses Lake attorney who represented the school district in the case. “There’s been an attempt to increase the liability of school districts all around, to make them more liable than the rest of us.”
With this ruling, Moberg said, school districts are now held “to the same standard as the rest of us.”
“The school district owes the duty of ordinary care to protect its kids,” Moberg said.
The case was brought about a decade by Heidi Jo Hendrickson, who cut a portion of one of her thumbs off trying to dislodge a board stuck in a radial saw during a shop class taught by Kevin Chestnut at Moses Lake High School.
Hendrickson sued, alleging the district was liable for negligence “in training and supervising her use of the table saw” as well Chestnut’s removal of a safety device, which he claimed could become “extremely dangerous” if not aligned properly.
In the original trial, a jury found that while the school district was negligent, it was not the cause of Hendrickson’s injuries.
Hendrickson appealed, and the state’s Third District Court of Appeals found in her favor, ruling that the trial court failed to give the jury proper instructors about “enhanced” duty of care.
In its 21-page opinion, the nine justices of the State Supreme Court overruled the appellate court and upheld the original jury verdict.
“We have long held that ‘(s)school districts have the duty to ‘exercise such care as an ordinarily responsible and prudent person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances,” the justices wrote.
A spokesperson for the Moses Lake School District had no comment on the ruling, saying the district does not comment on ongoing litigation.
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.