Madison - St. Clair Record

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Belleville mother files fifth amended complaint against school district over picnic injury

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Oct 13, 2017

General court 06

A Belleville mother filed a fifth amended complaint after St. Clair County Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson granted dismissal in a lawsuit alleging her son was injured when a tent collapsed at a school picnic.

Jacqueline Tunstall, mother and guardian of Ryan Neal McKinzie Tunstall, filed a fifth amended complaint on Sept. 20 through attorney Michael McGlynn of McGlynn & McGlynn in Belleville.

She filed the one-count complaint against Belleville School District 118, alleging a claim for wanton disregard for the safety of others.

Tunstall claims her son attended a school picnic at Hough Park on May 12, 2014, which was organized by the school district. She claims a support beam collapsed and hit the child on the head.

As a result, Tunstall’s son sustained a head injury, causing the plaintiff to incur past and future medical bills.

Tunstall alleges the school district erected the tent at the picnic on the grounds of the school picnic; and because the district personnel were not acting in a classroom supervisory role, immunity is inapplicable.

She alleges the defendant provided a dangerous tent through wanton carelessness and conscious disregard.

Tunstall seeks a judgment of more than $50,000.

Her original complaint was filed May 12, 2015.

The school district filed a motion to dismiss Tunstall’s fourth amended complaint on July 5 through attorney Sarah Knoploh of Guin Mundorf LLC in Collinsville.

The defendant argued that Tunstall alleged the district engaged in willful and wanton conduct by providing a dangerous tent and dangerously constructing a tent. However, in her previous four complaints, willful and wanton conduct was not pled. The claim was only made two years after the original complaint was filed.

The school district alleges it is immune from liability of willful and wanton conduct claims according to the Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act.

“The bare characterization of certain acts as willful and wanton misconduct is not sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss because such misconduct must be manifested by facts alleged in the complaint.

“Plaintiff has not pled any facts to show that Defendants engaged in willful and wanton misconduct because Plaintiff merely alleges that Defendant provided a dangerous tent and/or dangerously constructed a tent.

“Plaintiff failed to plead that Defendant engaged in an actual or deliberate intention to cause harm or that Defendants showed an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others,” the motion stated.

The school district added that Hugh Park is public property, owned by the City of Belleville.

The defendant argued that Tunstall did not argue that it had notice or knowledge of the existence of the alleged condition. It also argued that the complaint does not allege what measures the district should have taken to remedy or protect against the tent’s condition.

Tunstall filed a memorandum of law in opposition to the motion to dismiss on Aug. 21, arguing that the defendant’s argument is “untenable.”

“A school district is liable for breach of duty when providing equipment if it knew or should have known that the equipment was defective or dangerous,” the opposition stated.

The plaintiff further argued that the Supreme Court held that a school district has a duty to provide safe equipment and to provide equipment to prevent serious injuries.

Gleeson granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss on Aug. 22 and gave Tunstall 30 days to file an amended complaint.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 15-L-286

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