PROSSER -- The Prosser School District has settled a personal injury lawsuit with a former student whose hand was seriously injured in shop class five years ago.
The district paid Juan Copado $75,000 for all damages and expenses related to a November 2006 accident in Prosser High School's wood shop class. Copado, now 18, suffered severe cuts on his left hand while operating a table saw.
Documents obtained from the district's insurance company indicate the district admitted no liability in agreeing to the settlement.
Copado had asked for $325,000 in a claim filed in 2009.
As part of the settlement, Copado signed an agreement not to talk about the case, he told the Herald.
In court records, Copado's attorney said that around noon Nov. 6, 2006, Copado was using a table saw in the wood shop at Prosser High in a class taught by Jared Merrick.
Copado's left hand went into the saw blade, cutting the middle finger, index finger and thumb. The middle finger was "almost cut in half and was dangling," the claim said. Tendons and nerves in middle and index fingers were severed.
Copado was taken to Prosser Memorial Hospital first, then transferred to Kadlec Medical Center in Richland.
He later was treated at the Tri-City Orthopaedic Clinic in Richland and received physical therapy at Handworks Northwest, also in Richland.
His medical bills totaled more than $30,000, according to the claim.
The lawsuit that followed alleged the district was to blame. The claim said the school's table saw did not have safeguards, such as a splitter and anti-kickback pawl, installed.
Prosser Superintendent Ray Tolcacher said the district's insurance carrier "goes through the shops constantly," to ensure all safety measures are in place.
The claim also said that Merrick, the shop teacher, did not instruct Copado to use a featherboard. This notched board , set at an angle to the saw blade, is a safety device for cutting small pieces of wood.
All students undergo safety training on every piece of equipment and must pass a test on safety rules before they are allowed to use the machines in the shop, Tolcacher said. This has been a practice in Prosser schools for many years, he said.
The district's written response to the lawsuit said the accident was Copado's fault and denied all allegations in his complaint.
"We think our position was defensible," Tolcacher said. "We would have defended it."
But the insurance group, in which districts of comparable size pool together to cover legal expenses and compensation for damages, decided it was best to settle this lawsuit, Tolcacher said.
"They decide what's best for the pool, the district and the student," he said.