A jury will decide next week whether North Idaho College failed to warn a student about the dangers of one of its classroom buildings.
Former NIC business student Sharon Foster, 59, filed suit in 1992 claiming she suffered permanent mental impairment from noxious gases and chemicals in the college’s Hedlund Building.
Opening statements in the five-day trial began Tuesday afternoon before nine female and three male jurors. NIC’s attorney, Michael Ramsden, said the college had extensive testing done on the Hedlund Building after receiving complaints, but testing never revealed any health risks.
Had the dean of Administration, Rolland Jurgens, believed the building was a hazard, he wouldn’t have warned students, but rather would have simply shut the building down, Ramsden said Tuesday.
“Rolly Jurgens acted reasonably,” Ramsden said. “Based on information available to him, he acted appropriately, and NIC did not act negligently in response to Ms. Foster.”
Since 1992, NIC has spent approximately $500,000 to improve ventilation and air circulation in the Hedlund Building. The structure used to house diesel and auto mechanics programs, marine technology, welding and other technical courses that produced engine exhaust or used chemical solvents.
Foster is seeking medical expenses, pain and suffering and for loss of earning capacity for numbness, tingling, weakness of the right side of her body and memory deficit she claims were a result of dangerous classroom conditions. Tuesday, Foster’s attorney Michael Verbillis asked Jurgens if he ever acted on the numerous complaints about the building, by referring students to the college nurse, for example.
“When we got telephone calls about a half-dozen times, I did check out the complaints,” Jurgens said. “We did not refer people to doctors at that time.”
Each side is expected to call eight witnesses in the jury trial, which is scheduled to last five days.