BRADENTON — An appellate court has ruled that a $285,000 personal injury verdict was properly awarded to a former Harllee Middle School student severely beaten in front of his teacher.
The Second District Court of Appeal affirmed a jury’s decision that the Manatee County school board was negligent for the facial injuries Jesse Shipman, then 12, sustained at school April 28, 2004. Shipman was attacked by a 13-year-old classmate Joshua Grooms, who had an extensive disciplinary record and was later convicted of felony battery in the case.
The classroom teacher did nothing to stop the attack. Grooms repeatedly punched Shipman until he fell down unconscious, then continued to punch and kick him.
Amiee Buckman, who represented the Shipman family with her husband, Drake Buckman, said her client sustained more then 10 facial fractures in the attack. Doctors had to wait more than two months for swelling to subside so they could reconstruct his face. The boy, she said, still suffers from sinus issues.
Shipman’s mother, Lucinda Affedlt, filed suit against the school board in December 2007, and a Manatee County jury in June 2009 awarded Shipman’s family $35,000 in damages for medical costs for the boy’s facial surgery. They also received $250,000 for past and future pain and suffering.
The school board, represented by attorney James Valenti, appealed the verdict and attorneys argued the case before the higher court Aug. 4. Appellate judges James Whatley, Edward LaRose and Marva Creshaw issued their ruling last week.
School Board attorney John Bowen on Tuesday said the district was disappointed with the appeals court’s ruling because no one can foresee when a student is going to attack another student.
“We felt that the verdict was based upon an erroneous interpretation of law that teachers are required to put themselves in harms way when faced with a sudden outburst such as this one,” Bowen said.
The appellate court made its decision without a written opinion or explanation, which under the law prohibits an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
The judgment against the school board, Bowen said, is the largest payout in the past five years that he has worked for the board.
He also said the district’s liability maximum is $100,000 per person for personal injury judgments, which means the family might not get the whole amount it is owed.
“Florida law states if they want to collect the rest, the plaintiff has to go the Legislature and convince them they are worthy of the remainder of the judgment,” said Bowen.