Heather Isringhausen Gvillo Sep. 18, 2013, 4:46pm

First Student denies all allegations and demands a trial by jury in a case involving injuries a girl allegedly sustained in a school bus attack.

Cora Jackson claims her daughter, De’Ja Payne, was riding a school bus on Jan. 11, 2011, when Nickeynon Banner, allegedly teased her about her weight. Payne asked Banner to leave her alone when Banner fist-punched De’Ja in the face about five times, the suit states. Both were students at West Junior High in Belleville at the time.

According to the lawsuit, Banner had repeatedly taunted and bullied Payne in the months leading up to the attack, and the school, including the bus driver, was aware of Banner’s proclivity toward violence.

First Student filed its answer to the suit on Aug. 28, denying the allegations against it and listing its affirmative defenses.

First Student claims the plaintiff’s negligence was greater than 50 percent of the cause of her injuries and damages. Therefore, it alleges that action against the bus company is barred and Payne’s recovery should be reduced in proportion to the amount of fault attributable to the plaintiff.

A third party member, whom First Student claims it had no right to control, is blamed as the sole proximate cause of the plaintiff’s alleged injuries, the response states.

On Aug. 6, Belleville Public School District #118 responded to the complaint claiming Payne instigated and/or failed to stop the verbal and physical confrontation and that if she had ceased the altercation, she could have avoided some or all of her claimed injuries.

The school district also blames Payne’s own negligence as the cause of the incident, stating that Payne failed to exercise due care for her own safety and failed to keep a careful lookout.

The plaintiffs replied to the school district’s affirmative defenses denying all defenses on Aug. 28.

Jackson blames the bus company and school district for causing her daughter’s injuries, saying they negligently failed to provide an aide to ensure safety, failed to intervene and prevent the attack on Payne and failed to transport her with reasonable safety.

Jackson and Payne seek a judgment of more than $50,000.

St. Clair County Circuit Judge Andrew Gleeson presides. He continued the case on Sept. 16, setting a status conference on March 3, 2014, at 9 a.m.

The plaintiffs are represented by Brian D. Kurth from Meyerkord & Meyerkord, LLC, in St. Louis.

First Student is represented by Meg L. Fowler and Katharine A. Aplington of HeplerBroom LLC in St. Louis.

Belleville Public School District #118 is represented by Joe Callahan of Rouse & Cary in St. Louis.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 13-L-327

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