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Pinellas School Board likely to pay $1.1-million settlement

The Pinellas School Board is poised to approve a $1.1-million settlement in the case of a child who was struck by a car after running away from his St. Petersburg elementary school three years ago.

Superintendent Clayton Wilcox has recommended that the board settle in the case of Fairmount Park Elementary student E'Traveon Johnson, as an alternative to a possible lawsuit that could result in a larger award should a jury find the district negligent.

School Board attorney Jim Robinson said Thursday that settling the case also would spare the child's mother, Chantelle Ross, from the upset of a lengthy trial.

"Why put the family through that if we can reach a reasonable settlement that's acceptable and that's determined by the court to be in the child's best interest?" Robinson said.

"It's better to settle now and avoid protracted litigation."

If the board approves the settlement Tuesday, the district will pay the first $200,000, the maximum allowed under a state law that caps liability for school districts and other public agencies.

The district's insurance company would pay the remaining $900,000.

Ross would be eligible to seek additional relief through the Florida Legislature by filing a special claim bill, an instrument that compensates an individual for injuries or losses caused by the negligence or error of a public officer or agency.

E'Traveon, now 9, suffered life-threatening injuries the morning of April 12, 2005, when he ran away from the school and was struck by a Cutlass Supreme as he tried to cross Fifth Avenue S at 41st Street.

He spent more than three months at All Children's Hospital with injuries to his brain, spine and neck.

A district investigation that included scrutiny of video­camera surveillance of E'Traveon leaving the school and running through a set of glass doors concluded that school officials were properly supervising children at the time of the accident.

Ross, who said she had no idea why her son would have left the school, told officials two weeks later that she planned to sue.

She and her lawyer suggested a possible link between E'Traveon's accident and the police handcuffing of a 5-year-old girl at the school a month earlier. The case gained widespread attention shortly thereafter when the Rev. Jesse Jackson faulted police and school officials for not taking proper care of E'Traveon and the girl who had been handcuffed.

At Jackson's suggestion, Ross signed on with a Stuart law firm that includes high-profile attorney Willie Gary.

Earlier this month, Gary's firm filed a petition for approval of the settlement with the school district and the establishment of a special needs trust for E'Traveon, who remains paralyzed and depends upon Medicaid for his medical care.

Neither Ross nor the lawyer handling E'Traveon's case returned calls for comment.

Donna Winchester can be reached at winchester@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8413.

Pinellas School Board likely to pay $1.1-million settlement 04/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 14, 2008 1:37pm]
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