Town Officials Approve $500,000 Lowthert Lawsuit Settlement, Deny Liability to Avoid Jury Trial

Wednesday night, Nov. 17, Wilton’s three main boards — the Boards of Selectmen, Finance and Education — met together simultaneously to discuss settling a lawsuit against the town and school district. With most of the meeting held in executive session and out of public view, the officials eventually voted in open meeting to authorize paying up to $450,000 to the plaintiff.

In addition, the town’s insurance carrier will pay the plaintiff $50,000.

In a prepared statement, officials said the town denied liability but the settlement was made to avoid a jury trial, as recommended by town attorneys.

The lawsuit was filed in 2015 by Marissa and Christopher Lowthert on behalf of their children against a long list of town officials and entities:  the Wilton BOE; Wilton Public Schools; the Town of Wilton; former schools’ superintendent Dr. Gary Richards; former Miller-Driscoll Elementary School principal Cheryl Jensen-Gerner; former BOE finance director Ken Post; former BOE chairman Bruce Likly; and former first selectman Bill Brennan.

The Lowthert family — both parents and the two children are listed as plaintiffs — asserted that the two children suffered as a result of being subjected to poor indoor air quality as students at Miller-Driscoll between 2011 and 2013. They argue 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.

Following the two-hour executive session, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice began the open part of the meeting by reading a statement:

“Current and past elected board members, current and past town employees, trial counsel Thomas Gerard and members of his firm, Board of Education counsel Jessica Richmond Smith and Town Counsel Ira Bloom have collectively spent significant hours and effort over the last eight years related to this lawsuit. We have consulted extensively with our lawyers, either as a board or as represented by the appropriate board chairs. We deny liability, but understand the risks associated with any jury trial, and upon the recommendation of trial counsel, we have chosen to settle this lawsuit.

“Two additional pieces of information. The town’s insurance carrier will be paying $50,000 in addition to monies paid by the town. This amount represents two times the coverage in the town’s policy at the time of the claim. This agreement must be approved by the probate court. As such, we are unable to provide further details or a copy of the settlement agreement until the agreement has been approved by the probate court.”

Vanderslice then asked the three boards to individually approve funding the settlement. What followed was a very regimented, scripted process by which each board chair read a specific, prepared motion, and revealed that the settlement payment would come from both town and school funding sources and split evenly — $225,000 from BOS reserves and $225,000 from BOE reserves..

First, BOE Chair Deborah Low read a motion to approve the proposed settlement agreement and authorize using “up to $225,000” of BOE reserve funds for it, “upon the recommendation of trial counsel.” All six current BOE members voted unanimously to approve it.

Next, BOF Vice Chair Michael Kaelin read a motion to approve the proposed settlement agreement and support using “up to $225,000” of BOE reserve funds and “up to $225,000” of BOS reserve funds for the settlement, “upon the recommendation of trial counsel.” Kaelin and the three other BOF members present voted unanimously to approve it.

Finally, Vanderslice followed suit, reading a very similar motion, to approve the proposed settlement agreement and authorize the first selectwoman to execute the settlement agreement, useing “up to $225,000” of BOS reserve funds and “up to $225,000” of BOE reserve funds for the settlement, “upon the recommendation of trial counsel.” All BOS members voted unanimously to approve it.

With that, Vanderslice thanked members of all three boards as well as School Superintendent Kevin Smith. She also expressed appreciation to all the attorneys for their “hard work and extremely valuable counsel,” each board moved to adjour their meeting. Vanderslice asked if any members of the public wished to make public comments. When no one did, all of the boards adjourned their meetings.

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