Cafeteria Practice Prompts School System to Settle Court Case

The attorney for the Seattle-area school district that recently settled for $2 million with a former student left permanently disabled following a glass-related incident at one of its schools nearly six years ago says the glass involved was fine.

eThe problem was the decision to hold wrestling practice in the school cafeteria that day.

“It was more about the switch [to] the cafeteria [from the gym],” says Robert L. Christie, the Seattle-based attorney who represented the Kent Unified School District. “The type of glass was fine for a cafeteria, but not for wrestling practice.”

Glass safety activist Greg Abel applauded the school district for doing the right thing.

“It was a wise thing to do,” says Abel, a former law enforcement officer whose own son was seriously injured by glass while exiting a University of Oregon sporting complex in 2001. “It was good on the part of the school district because the kid’s injuries were pretty horrific. The award will never get this young man to where he was before, but, hopefully, it will help him on another path.”

The former student was 15 when he allegedly fell while climbing atop a stack of rolled up wrestling mats in December 2007. He almost bled to death after careening into some adjacent wired glass and nearly severing off his entire arm.

He filed suit in federal court against the school district shortly after the accident, saying school officials were negligent because they should have been aware of the inherent danger of the glass and removed it from close proximity of their students.

The school system and the student agreed to settlement terms this past April, with Traveler’s Insurance paying out the money on behalf of the school system. As further part of the deal, school officials had to also publicly apologize.

But Christie still contends the problem stemmed from the decision to hold wrestling practice in the cafeteria rather in the gym. The school had been forced to hold wrestling practice in the cafeteria during a prior season, but Christie was unsure as to why they were doing so again on the day of the accident. His firm of The Christie Law Group hired its own experts who alleged that the older, annealed glass was code-compliant for a cafeteria. It was never meant to host athletic events.

“The focus was really whether it was a safe place to store wrestling mats,” Christie says. “It created a problem.”

The uncertainty of the case and desire to avoid a public relations nightmare led school officials to settle the case rather than go to trial, Christie says.

The former student remains permanently disabled even after extensive medical procedures in the years since, Christie says.

“Everybody felt awful that he was injured,” Christie says. “At least there’s been some relief.”

The Kent Unified School District is the state’s fourth-largest, according the school system website.

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