HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. – An 18-year-old former student of Steinbrenner High School, has sued the School Board of Hillsborough County for negligence in a classroom beating that allegedly rendered him unconscious. His mother believes the assault was premeditated.
Owen Skinner, the Plaintiff, was in a fifth-period class, seated at his desk on May 3, 2019, when a 15-year-old student attacked him. No teacher or staff member was in sight. According to the lawsuit:
“Owen Skinner was seated at a desk waiting for the class to start, the (student-assailant) rushed him from behind, slammed his head into a desktop, put his neck in a chokehold, and then violently threw him down to the floor…This brutal attack inside the classroom was captured on video….At the time of the attack, no teacher or staff member was inside the classroom, which was left unattended by the teachers and the staff.”
Mrs. Andra Skinner, Owen Skinner’s mother, a teacher outside of Hillsborough County, said her son suffers chronic jaw pain as a result of the incident. Medical statements from St. Joseph’s Hospital Tampa were included in a Notice of Claims to the School Board, indicating Skinner’s jaw was broken. In a restraining order request, Andra Skinner stated that her son was “sucker-punched in the jaw and temple, knocking him out.”
Both Skinner and the School Board are citing the same Florida Statute to defend their positions.
Skinner claims that Florida Statute Section SS768.28(5) means the state’s various agencies and subdivisions – including school boards – are “liable for tort claims in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances.” The School Board disputes that, citing the statute generally as providing it with “sovereign immunity,” meaning they cannot be sued.
The School Board further claims that Skinner’s negligence contributed to the incident and his injury and damages because “he negligently failed to exercise reasonable care regarding his own safety.” The Board contends they should not be held accountable for much of Skinner’s expense claims.
Mrs. Andra Skinner is appalled by the Board’s opinion that her son contributed to getting a beating, the Seventh Affirmative Defense filed by the School Board.
“My child had previously mentioned there was a student who was disruptive in classrooms, just non-stop talking. Kids couldn’t study. So Owen finally told the student to shut up. A science teacher told me my kid had done nothing wrong,” said Skinner, “He said he knows the student who attacked my son. Other teachers have told me, ‘don’t back down.’ Meanwhile, the teacher who was not in the classroom during this attack has never reached out to me.”
The student-assailant is described in the lawsuit as a child who has a history of threatening students, exhibiting bizarre behavior, and initiating violent outbursts. Skinner accuses the School Board of not protecting him (or providing security) by removing the assailant from classrooms based on his past behavior and having no authority present in the classroom itself.
The Hillsborough County School Board was asked pertinent questions in this case; however, they declined to comment due to ongoing litigation.
In a Notice of Tort Claims under Florida Statute Section SS768.28, the student-assailant was arrested.
The attorney for Skinner is James W. Holliday of Holiday Keratinos Law Firm in Lutz.