A jury trial is scheduled for October to decide whether North Idaho College was negligent for failing to warn students and the public about hazardous conditions in one of its buildings.
Former NIC business student Sharon Foster, 59, of Coeur d’Alene, filed suit in 1992 claiming she suffered permanent mental impairment from noxious gases and chemicals in the Hedlund Building.
Two similar cases brought by faculty members have been settled recently, Foster’s attorney said Monday.
“The college’s worker’s compensation insurer has paid money out on health-related claims brought by faculty members related to the Hedlund Building, so it’s not a big mystery about these things happening,” said Michael Verbillis, Foster’s attorney. “I am optimistic with the change of administration that we will have a fresh look at this by the new administration and board.”
The specific faculty members involved and the amount of money they were paid is considered confidential worker’s compensation information by the Idaho Insurance Commission and the state insurance fund.
NIC’s attorney Dana Wetzel said interim President Ronald Bell will be taking a close look at all NIC’s pending issues.
“But it’s hard to take a fresh look at this case when it’s at this stage in litigation,” Wetzel said.
Foster is seeking medical expenses, pain and suffering and 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.
In a ruling this June, District Court Judge Gary Haman denied NIC’s request for summary judgment, thereby allowing the suit to move forward in court. It is the second time in the past two years college attorneys’ attempts to keep the case from going to trial have been rebuffed.
Since 1992, NIC has spent about $500,000 to improve ventilation and air circulation in the Hedlund Building.
The building formerly housed the diesel and auto mechanics programs, marine technology, welding and other technical courses that produced engine exhaust or used chemical solvents.
The welding and marine technology programs have since been moved off campus.
Classes still are held in the Hedlund Building, which college officials maintain now is a healthy environment for staff and students.
“No evidence was ever uncovered by any of the consultants’ studies that there was any health problems related to the use of that building,” said Steven W. Schenk, dean of college relations.
According to Verbillis, Foster’s health is improving some, although she has lingering difficulties.
“Sharon Foster is not out to take down the college, she just wants some compensation for what was obviously a preventable injury,” Verbillis said.
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