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home : education : schools May 24, 2016

3/27/2014 4:53:00 PM
Sisters student seeks damages for saw accident
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

A Sisters High School senior who was seriously injured in a woodshop accident at the school in December 2012 is suing the Sisters School District (SSD) for current and future medical expenses and damages to a total of over $6 million.

Joshua Ward, now 19, lost the ring and pinky fingers of his left hand and suffered severe damage to the other fingers and thumb in an accident involving a table saw. He has lost sensation in his fingers and hand and has loss some of the use of that hand.

The school district's insurance company will handle the case. In an interview with The Nugget, Ward's family emphasized that they are not "going after" the school district.

"This is all about insurance," said Ward family attorney Tom D'Amore. "The schoool district may even feel like they want to help this family, but they can't. No taxpayer dollars are going to be involved... This is why the school district buys insurance. Mistakes happen; accidents happen."

Ward was injured on December 19, 2012, while acting as a teacher's aide to woodshop teacher Tony Cosby. According to Ward, Cosby asked him to cut a board into several long strips for use in the guitar-making class. Ward used a table saw.

"The piece of wood lifted slightly off the table ... and pulled my hand into the blade and threw the board across the room and punched a hole in the wall," Ward recalled.

"I felt warmth coming down my wrist and a student standing next to me said, 'You need to look at your hand.'"

Ward's mother Angela said, "The ER doctor said it was the worst hand injury he'd ever seen."

Several surgeries were required to fuse a joint in Ward's thumb and to reattach the fingers that were hanging by shreds of skin.

The suit alleges negligence in "failing to warn (Ward) of the dangers of the table saw and safety guard" and lack of proper supervision. The suit further alleges "inadequate safety training to (Ward) and similarly situated high school students" and negligence "in allowing an instructor inadequately trained in the safe operation of the table saw to instruct and train (Ward) and other... high school students."

Ward wants to see school districts mandated to purchase saws with updated technology that can sense when a body part is in coming into contact with the blade and stop the blade.

Joshua cited SawStop out of Tigard, Oregon, for its use of sensors that can pick up contact with the skin (due to conductivity) and can stop a saw blade in five milliseconds.

Angela Ward noted that the school district purchased a new table saw after her son's accident.

"We were very thankful they did that, because we don't want this to happen to any other student," she said. "Just wish it had been there for my son."

Attorney D'Amore said that, while a mandate would have to come legislatively, a lawsuit can "help wake people up."

He said, "These electric saws in schools, they should be replaced. There's a real danger to students when they're operating these tools."

The suit names woodshop teacher Tony Cosby, which attorney D'Amore said is legally necessary.

That's not an easy thing for Joshua.

"He was just really supportive," Ward said. "While I was in the hospital, he visited me every day except Christmas. It's hard to do this."

Ward has significant ongoing medical expenses. He's had six surgeries so far, and one is scheduled for May to open up the webbing at his thumb so he can grasp larger objects like a water glass.

The loss of fingers and sensation has caused him difficulties in day-to-day life, though he is back on the field pursuing his passion for lacrosse.

D'Amore said the SSD insurance company offered a settlement of $60,000, which won't cover the medical bills.

"This has put a huge strain on us financially," said Joshua. "This felt like the only route to take care of that."

The Sisters School District superintendent and board chair and vice chair were all out of town. In their absence, board member Andrew Gorayeb told The Nugget, "I know Josh personally. He's a great kid and this is a terrible tragedy. Other than that, I can't comment on pending litigation."

The suit seeks $363,699 in economic damages for medical and related expenses; damages for future medical expenses of $200,000; loss of earning capacity and retraining expenses up to $2.5 million and non-economic damages not to exceed $3 million.

The suit was filed in Deschutes County Circuit Court on Thursday, March 27.

(An expanded version of this story will appear in the April 2 print edition of The Nugget.)

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, March 28, 2014
Article comment by: Miranda Vaughn

I have opinions about this incident and turn-about.
This case is hardly worth $6 million. However, I do agree the insurance should pay for medical bills and some attorney fees.
I don't see too many faults on the school either. I think there could be larger implications based on the client's factors at age and time. You need to measure in: if the client was lacking concentration, knowledge from previous attentiveness during classes, and their own distractions. I know that Mr. Crosby tells EVERYONE who walks into his classroom the dangers and how the machines work. Even I, who never took Woods, was told by Mr. Crosby that I need to be extra careful around the machinery and people. I believe once I was even asked to leave, to let the students concentrate.
So, to read that there was lack of warning towards the machinery is absolutely absurd and a lie. The client had responded that there was lack of supervision which is true. Mr. Crosby is not there to hold your hand (no pun intended), when you have been given the position of a Teacher's Aide. You are at a higher position in the classroom and are expected to perform with the up most knowledge towards concentration and understanding the dangers. You should not apply for the teacher's aide in any classroom unless you are highly informed by the teacher and YOURSELF within the subject and actions.
I also, do not blame the machinery, unless there is evidence to be seen that it was lacking efficiency. We need to realize as artists that there are dangers when it comes to machines everyday people included (cars, computers, etc.) From reading this article, the knowledge I know about the school and faculty, and me being of age in SHS I think there could be some serious faults on the client's end.
I am sorry that this has happened but to take it as far as $6 million is highly selfish and absurd. I hope the court can come to a compromise in the asking price for this injury that clearly points to the client as having faults. We need to understand as students taking any class, that there is a pose of danger. The key is to be aware, share concerns and insecurities, and to pay absolute attention to every detail before performing an action. If failing to understand these three points, he/she must walk away from the subject and work with the faculty. Please, do not make this into some scandal [Client] to where there becomes uproar of an over-dramatic end.

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