Four years and two weeks from the day they filed a lawsuit against the Town of Wilton, Wilton Public Schools, the Wilton Board of Education and multiple town officials, Marissa and Christopher Lowthert and their two children will bring their case to a judge and jury starting today, Wednesday, Dec. 4.
The Lowthert family–all four of whom are listed as plaintiffs–filed their lawsuit in November 2015, asserting that the two children suffered as a result of being subjected to poor indoor air quality as students at Miller-Driscoll Elementary School between 2011 and 2013. They claim that for years, even before the Lowthert children were students at Miller-Driscoll, multiple Wilton officials knew about leaks, wet building conditions, mold and other environmental hazards in the building yet did nothing to protect students from conditions that led to the Lowthert children’s exposure and resulting illnesses.
According to the lawsuit, the children sustained “…serious injuries, some or all of which may be long-term or permanent: respiratory symptoms including chronic congestion; cognitive symptoms; asthma; building related illness; mold allergy; allergic symptoms; nosebleeds; headaches; sore throat; nausea; behavioral changes; insomnia…” The Lowtherts’ suit alleges that those symptoms and injuries were caused the children’s exposure to the “unsafe, dangerous and hazardous conditions” at Miller-Driscoll, and that “due to their exposure in the building, both children now suffer from asthma.
Court documents show that the Lowtherts’ son began kindergarten at Miller-Driscoll in Aug. 2011 and attended through Nov. 22, 2013; their daughter began attending preschool there in May 2012, and eventually attended kindergarten beginning in Aug. 2013 until Nov. 22, 2013. After that date, the Lowtherts withdrew the children from district schools.
In addition to the Town of Wilton, the Wilton School District and the Board of Education being named as defendants, there are several former public officials named individually in the lawsuit by the Lowtherts: Dr. Gary Richards, who was superintendent of Wilton Public Schools at the time the Lowthert children attended Miller-Driscoll; Cheryl Jensen-Gerner, the former Miller-Driscoll principal at the time; Ken Post, the school district’s former finance director while the Lowthert children were enrolled in the district; Bruce Likly, Wilton’s Board of Education chair during those years; and Bill Brennan, who was Wilton’s first selectman at the time.
Two years after the Lowthert children were pulled out of the district by their parents, Miller-Driscoll School underwent an extensive renovation project, from late 2015 until Sept. 2017. The project involved replacement and repair of significant structural elements, including new roof sections, windows, flooring, ceilings, and more, as well as new construction of a portion of the building. At the time, town officials readily admitted that structural problems–including roof leaks and aging mechanical systems such as HVAC–were a major impetus for the renovation project, which eventually cost the town approximately $35 million at its conclusion.
Trial Begins Wednesday
The case is scheduled to begin today, Wednesday, Dec. 4, in a Superior Court jury trial in Stamford.
The legal activity leading up to today’s trial has been extensive, with more than 250 motions, preliminary court orders and decisions, and filings made by the both the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ legal teams over the last four years. The plaintiffs have asked for thousands of pages of records (e.g. emails, reports, etc.) and at times have filed contempt motions and complaints asserting that the school district has not turned over all the requested existing documents. Multiple depositions of current and former town officials as well as other witnesses have been taken not just in Connecticut but all around the country, and it’s likely that legal fees spent by both sides since the case began amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
According to the online case file, the trial is scheduled to start Wednesday morning with jury selection, followed by three days of hearings on Dec. 10, 11 and 18; the case will then go on a brief hiatus until the new year, when jury selection and the trial are scheduled to begin again on Jan. 7, 2020. [Editor’s note: per CT law, that case file was removed from online access at the start of jury trial proceedings. It is accessible at any state courthouse.]
Attorneys on the case submitted materials to the court, including voir dire questions that will be asked of prospective jurors, which give a clue about how long the lawyers think the trial will go on. One question asks potential jurors whether they have any conflicts with a trial expected to start on Jan. 7, 2020 and last three- to four weeks.
The plaintiffs’ list of possible witness has 64 potential witnesses on it; the defendants have 46 possible witnesses.
The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Michael C. Harrington and Elizabeth Smith of Ford Harrison, LLP in Hartford. Thomas Gerarde and Kristan Maccini, lawyers from the district’s law firm, Howd and Ludorf, will represent all of the defendants.