Jury sides with school in fight case

Steve Gonzalez Aug. 18, 2008, 2:00am

East Alton-Wood River High School

A Madison County jury Aug. 14 returned with a defense verdict in favor of East Alton-Wood River High School.

Michael Scott Harris, Jr., was seeking damages in excess of $75,000, alleging he suffered a broken jaw and broken tooth during a fight at the school on Nov. 8, 2004.

Since he was a minor at the time of the incident, his mother, Gloria Jean Harris, filed the suit on her son's behalf in April 2005.

At trial, Harris alleged the school was aware of the potential for fighting to occur.

Prior to the fight, a letter from the superintendent was sent home alerting parents of a controversial Web site which, among other things, included a "wish that some of these students should die," Harris alleged.

Harris also testified the school had actual knowledge of the bad reputation of the school and the hazards to peaceful, law-abiding students between class periods.

Robert William Bosslet Jr. of Granite City represented the plaintiffs at trial.

During the trial, Bosslet told jurors that East Alton-Wood River High School had actual knowledge of several fights occurring on its campus earlier in the school year and in spite of the knowledge failed to assign teachers to monitor students while they were changing classes.

Representing the school, Robert Jackstadt of Edwardsville, said on the day of the fight a student ran up and took one swing and punched Michael Harris in face causing a broken jaw.

Harris said his broken jaw and dental problems caused considerable pain, anguish, suffering, significant medical expenses, a permanent disability and disfigurement, and his normal enjoyment of life has been permanently impaired.

After reaching the verdict, a male juror from the Wood River area who asked not to be identified said that nothing the school could have done would have stopped the student from "ambushing" Harris.

"He ran up and sucker punched him," the juror said. "I don't care if every teacher was in the hallway, nothing would have stopped the fight from happening."

Madison County Associate Judge Tom Chapman presided over the four-day trial.

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