WESTFIELD, Ind. – The parent of a Westfield High School student injured in a stage collapse in 2015 has filed a lawsuit seeking damages from the school corporation.
Jennifer Hoffman filed the suit Thursday in Hamilton Superior Court concerning the April 23, 2015, collapse at Westfield High School, which happened during the finale of the student-produced musical “American Pie.”
As students crowded onto the stage for the finale, set to “Don’t Stop Believin’,” the stage buckled underneath their weight and collapsed. More than a dozen students were injured, although none of the injuries were life-threatening.
We talked to Destiny Hoffman in the hospital after the collapse. The harrowing ordeal left the then-16-year-old with a severe concussion and dangerously low blood pressure, injuries so serious she was even listed in critical condition for a time.
"I didn't hear it crack. It just all collapsed. I just saw everyone falling," she said back in April 2015, "It seemed unreal, like everyone was there, and then they were just gone."
"From that night on, her life was changed forever," said Tim Stoesz, the family's attorney, "She had to change schooling and how she approached life, and she lost a good portion of her life because of the injuries."
Stoesz said the teen felt the effects of the concussion for months.
In the aftermath of the incident, school officials and police investigated and found that Quinten James, the auditorium director, had removed steel support beams from beneath the orchestra pit cover. He also designed a new cover for the pit.
The investigation found James failed to properly support the new cover, which ended up being unable to support the weight when students rushed the stage. James did not face charges in connection with the incident; the prosecutor’s office said the faulty construction didn’t rise to the level of a criminal offense. James later resigned.
The lawsuit filed Thursday alleges that the school failed to properly supervise James, leading to the collapse and injuries suffered by the plaintiff’s daughter.
"It was something that the school didn't properly supervise their employee. The employee did something that wasn't up to par, and students were injured. It's that simple," said Stoesz, "This is not personal animosity. It is a matter of liability and compensating a young lady for her damages she suffered in injury."
The lawsuit seeks damages for the girl’s injuries, attributed to the district's "negligent behavior and failure to provide a safe environment for students.” Hoffman also seeks damages for loss of consortium, loss of income and mental anguish.
While neither the school system nor James faced charges for the collapse, the Indiana Department of Labor and Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration fined the district $11,700 for violating safety procedures.
The agency later dropped the fines, saying the district took the proper steps to remedy the problem by installing a new, properly supported stage cover.
Westfield Washington Schools released the following statement on Thursday afternoon:
Westfield Washington Schools has always placed the highest value on the safety of our students. We are aware of the suit, will review it further, and will address the allegations in a timely manner.