Wrongful death lawsuit likely to be dismissed

LISBON — A wrongful-death lawsuit that included the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office as a defendant is likely to be dismissed following a recent court ruling.

The Ohio 7th District Court of Appeal ruled on Jan. 24 in favor of the sheriff’s office dispatcher who handled the 911 call and the Brown Local school district, which was also listed as a defendant. County Common Pleas Court Judge Scott Washam had already ruled in favor of Sheriff Ray Stone and the bus driver, which leaves no remaining defendants.

The 2016 lawsuit was filed in response to a traffic crash that occurred on the morning of Nov. 22, 2014, when a car containing three teenagers slid left of center into the path of a Brown Local school bus going the other direction on U.S. Route 30 in West Township. The bus was transporting the Malvern High School basketball team to scrimmages in Lisbon.

The accident claimed the lives of three people in the car: driver Savannah R. Russell, 16, of Malvern, and passengers A’liyia Hancock, 18, of Minerva, and Storm Angione, 19, of Paris.

Angione’s mother filed a wrongful-death lawsuit naming Sheriff Stone, a sheriff’s dispatcher, the school district and the bus driver as defendants. The dispatcher was accused of failing to follow Stone’s directive requiring first responders be contacted when there is a traffic accident with possible injuries. She transferred the call to the Ohio Highway Patrol according to 911 protocol, which did not require first responders be automatically notified.

The lawsuit alleged the delay cost Angione his life, and that the school district and bus driver were culpable for being out on the roads during icy conditions.

The accident occurred at 9:10 a.m., and the county coroner estimated Angione’s time of death at 9:15 a.m. based on the massive trauma he sustained. The coroner also noted that alcohol intoxication was a significant contributing factor in his death.

Government employees performing their duties are automatically entitled to a presumption of immunity under the law, unless they acted in a reckless manner. In 2017, Judge Washam ruled neither Stone or the bus driver were reckless in performing their duties based on the evidence, but he allowed the lawsuit to continue against the dispatcher and the school district.

The dispatcher and school board appealed Washam’s ruling. In a 3-0 ruling, the appeals court issued a summary judgment in favor, of both, saying the evidence shows the dispatcher followed 911 policy and there was no evidence she saw the sheriff’s directive posted on the bulletin board or was ever told of it.

Since neither the school district or the dispatcher acted in a reckless manner, they — like the sheriff and bus driver — are also entitled to immunity. The appeals court did not order the case back to Washam for him to act in accordance with the ruling, which likely means the lawsuit is dismissed outright.

Angione’s mother has 30 days to file an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court.