Saturday, September 20, 2003

Throat injury nets girl $139K

School liable in lawsuit

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

An 8-year-old girl whose vocal cords were severely damaged - allegedly by an aide in her kindergarten class at a Lockland charter school - was awarded nearly $140,000 by a Hamilton County jury Friday.

Shane Elliott, now a third-grader, suffered permanent injuries and must wear a microphone around her neck to be understood, according to the negligence lawsuit filed against Greater Cincinnati Community Academy.

The suit alleged that Bridgette Mecklenberg jerked Shane awake from an afternoon nap in May 2001, forcing Shane to fall forward and hit her throat against a desktop.

Shane was bleeding and in obvious pain, but, the suit claimed, Mecklenberg and a unlicensed teacher in the class told the whimpering child to clean herself up. The school attempted to contact her mother, Lynne Banks, but no message was left when she did not answer the phone.

The verdict comes just days after a state audit of the school revealed more than $400,000 in undocumented expenditures. After a week of testimony, jurors awarded Shane $139,250 and her mother $1,500.

Mecklenberg, who was never charged with a crime in the case, could not be reached for comment Friday.

The suit said the school had received previous complaints against Mecklenberg, including one that alleged she inadvertently hit a kindergartner in the face with a lunchbox while trying to toss it to the student.

The girl's attorney, Mark Vander Laan, said he thought jurors were sending a message with the verdict: "They wanted to make sure the little girl was compensated properly."

Mecklenberg no longer works at the school, Vander Laan said. J.C. Benton, Ohio Department of Education spokesman, said there is no formal investigation of the school, but the state is "working with the school about the audit and numerous other issues."

Shane, the suit said, is still recovering: "Once a secure child, Shane is now cautious and afraid to speak up - literally."


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