Jury finds for Cross in fight trial

PARKERSBURG – After less than two hours of deliberation, the Wood County Circuit Court jury in the case of Adam Cross and Lisa Watson v. the Wood County Board of Education and Dwain Sponseller found in favor of Cross.

In its verdict Friday, the jury awarded Cross and his mother, Lisa Watson, $136,030.

Cross and Watson brought suit against the Wood County Board of Education and coach Dwain Sponseller from a Oct. 20, 2010 incident involving Cross and Drake Mills, both members of the Parkersburg South High School freshman football team.

Mills attacked Cross in the locker room after practice and students who witnessed the fight said Sponseller was present and did nothing to stop the fight, according to court testimony. Accounts of the fight said it lasted 22 seconds, ending with Cross on the floor having his nose broken in two places, a broken cheek bone and bleeding on the brain.

Mills testified he was encouraged to hit Cross in practice drills that day and the coach also encouraged him to fight Cross.

Jurors decided the Wood County Board of Education through its employees, including Principal Thomas Eschbacher, Vice Principal Charles Crookshanks and athletic director Rick Leach, failed to provide a reasonably safe environment and it was a proximate cause of Cross’ injuries.

Jurors also found school officials failed to supervise Sponseller and failed to train him on safe school policies; the school officials also were negligent in carrying out the policies, inflicted emotional distress and all were proximate causes of injuries, jurors found.

They also found Sponseller was negligent in his duties, inflicted pain and emotional distress on Cross and all were found to be proximate causes of the injuries. They also found the coach acted in a wanton and reckless manner by encouraging hostilities between the two and it was a proximate cause of injuries.

Jurors said they placed the percentage of fault as 30 percent on the Wood County Board of Education, 50 percent on Sponseller and 10 percent each on Drake Mills and Cross.

Cross was awarded $800 for medical expenses after the age of 18, $50,000 for past pain and suffering but nothing for future pain and suffering, past loss of enjoyment of life $10,000 but nothing for future loss of enjoyment of life, $10,000 for past emotional distress but nothing for future emotional distress, $10,000 for past mental anguish and nothing for future mental anguish, $10,000 for past humiliation and nothing for future humiliation, past aggravation and inconvenience and nothing for future aggravation and inconvenience for a total of $100,800.

For Watson the jury awarded $34,000 for medical expenses before the age of 18 and $1,230 for lost wages and nothing for loss of consortium with her son for a total of $35,230.

After the verdict Shirley Mills, mother of Drake Mills, said she was glad it was over.

“I’m glad it’s all over with and the evidence spoke for itself,” she said.

Drake Mills said he was glad to put it behind him.

“I’m glad Adam and I can put all of this behind us,” he said. “We don’t have to have this over our heads anymore.”

Since the 2010 fight, Cross and Mills are now friends.

Attorney Jim Leach, who represented Cross, said the verdict sends a clear message to the Wood County Board of Education.

“The most important thing is the Wood County Board of Education needs to understand they need to apply policies and follow these rules,” he said. “That is the verdict of the jury and it is what we believe is right from the beginning and we hope the board of education takes note.”

Leach said he was not surprised at the time it took the jury to come to a verdict.

“I think the jury understood the facts of the case and the testimony was clear,” he said.

What Leach said he did not understand was why the board of education refused to settle out of court.

“I don’t understand why this case had to come this far,” he said. “It should have been dealt with years ago and the jury dealt with it as quickly as the board of education should have.”

Leach said the board of education should have dealt with Sponseller at the time of the incident.

“The fact they didn’t do so and we had to bring a civil action to get a remedy should send a message to our board of education,” he said.

Cross and his mother, Lisa Watson, declined comment after the trial as did the attorneys representing the board of education, Karen McElhinny and Kimberly Bandy of Shuman, McCuskey and Slicer.