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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sirens & Gavels

Review petition filed in school suicide lawsuit

The legal saga of the custodian who claims her school forced her to clean up a student's suicide mess continued this month as a lawyer for the Nine Mile Falls School District asked the state Supreme Court to review a state Court of Appeals ruling regarding the lawsuit.

Debbie Rothwell claims she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after cleaning up the bloody scene inside the main entrance to Lakeside High School in 2004, then serving cookies to mourning students hours later and tending to the makeshift memorial that week, according to a May 2007 lawsuit. Spokane County Superior Court Judge Greg Sypolt dismissed the suit in January 2008, ruling the incident was covered by the Industrial Insurance Act.

The Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit in a 2-1 ruling last month. Spokane lawyer Michael McFarland filed a petition for discretionary review to the state Supreme Court last week.

At issue in the legal rulings has not been the merits of one side's claim versus the other's, but whether Rothwell's claims fall outside the bounds of the Industrial Insurance Act, which prohibits lawsuits based on industry injury or occupational disease.

"I can tell you that my clients strongly dispute many of the allegations contained in Ms. Rothwell’s Complaint, and my investigation into this matter supports my client’s assertions," McFarland wrote in an email. "While I believe that the Supreme Court will accept review of this matter, and will thereafter reverse the Court of Appeals, I am also very confident that if forced to litigate this case at the trial court level, (former Superintendent) Michael Green and the District will ultimately prevail."

McFarland continued, "All I will say at this time is that if and when the true facts come out, they will show that in the face of a tragic situation, Michael Green and Nine Mile Falls School District acted entirely appropriately and responsibly, taking into consideration the best interests and well-being of the students, staff and Nine Mile Falls School District community."

Spokane lawyer William Powell represents Rothwell. Stevens County Sheriff's Craig Thayer and three deputies were originally names as defendants in the suit but have since been dismissed.

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