A boy severely injured in 2012 while sledding on Carmichael Hill is suing the Richland School District, claiming it invited and knowingly allowed the public to use the hill in spite of the danger.
The hill at Carmichael Middle School has been a popular sledding spot on snow days for decades, the lawsuit points out.
Yet, the district “failed to exercise reasonable care to make the conditions safe” or to warn sledders — like the boy in this case — of the risk involved with artificial conditions on the property, including a cinderblock baseball dugout at the bottom of the hill.
The district was negligent in maintaining its signs, which tried to prohibit sledding in certain areas, and in constructing the dugout at the base of a known sledding hill, according to the suit.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Benton County Superior Court. The district has 20 days to respond.
The boy, now 13, is not named but still lives in Benton County.
He was 10 when his “flat bottom foam sled” crashed into the concrete barrier. He never attended Richland schools and it reportedly was his first visit to Carmichael Hill.
The complaint says the boy “suffered severe and continuing injuries including facial fractures, broken teeth, a concussion, sinus fractures, liver lacerations and head injuries requiring hospitalization, treatment and specialized education.”
By law, the suit can’t specify a damage amount. The lawsuit asks for “an amount that will fairly compensate (the boy) for all damages sustained,” along with reasonable attorney fees and costs, and other relief deemed just and equitable by the court.
However, on Jan. 8 the family submitted a claim to the Richland district seeking $10 million. The lawsuit could be filed since more than two months have passed with no response from the district.
The suit was filed by Kennewick lawyers Kristina McKennon and Jay Flynn, who also presented an order asking for Tim Mahoney to be appointed as guardian ad litem. The order was signed by Judge Carrie Runge.
Mahoney is a Kennewick attorney who has no specific relationship to the child or personal interest in the legal action. As the appointed guardian, Mahoney will represent the best interests of the boy, will likely appear for him in court and “investigate the reasonableness and adequacy of any settlement offers,” the order said.
“If the district thinks sledding is an important tradition, that’s fine,” McKennon told the Herald in January. “But they have an obligation to protect little kids.”
On Jan. 19, 2012, an ice storm closed Tri-City schools for the day. The boy joined other sledders at 620 Thayer Drive in taking advantage of the snow day.
Carmichael Hill, “where the elevation drops 38 feet … in under 200 feet of run,” has an approximate 19-percent grade, the complaint says.
“Carmichael Hill’s slope and contour on a snowy day is attractive and enticing to young children,” said the suit.
The dugout is at the southwest base of the hill in an area that was not considered open to the public for snow sledding.
At some point before 2012, district employees placed two signs atop the hill prohibiting sledding between the signs, knowing the area directly below had obstacles and wasn’t safe.
But they failed to maintain the signs and did nothing further to protect or prevent sledders from veering into that area, like placing barricades down the hill, the suit said.
Attorneys say the boy was obeying the signage that day when he took off down the hill, but his sled picked up speed, followed the contour of the ground and turned toward the south, sending him into the path of the dugout.
Another child was seriously injured the following day when his sled went into other obstacles at the base of the hill, the suit said.
As a result, emergency room doctors at Richland’s Kadlec Regional Medical Center asked police and school officials to temporarily close the hill because the icy conditions.
The lawsuit claims the boy, because of his age, was incapable of comprehending the danger posed by the hill and that certain hazards, like the dugout, should not have been “left unguarded and exposed at a place where young children were accustomed to snow sled.”
The district should have realized the dugout’s placement “involved an unreasonable risk of harm,” and easily could have prevented access to that part of the hill, the suit said.
The boy was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he was treated for several weeks. His brain injuries contribute to ongoing academic and social problems, and he’s expected to need long-term medical and educational support, McKennon has said.
Documents filed with the school district in January said the boy’s medical bills total more than $250,000.
McKennon said the family wants to see the district take action to ensure other kids aren’t hurt.
Eleven months after the accident, new signs were installed on the hill warning, “Sledding may be hazardous. Sled at your own risk.”