Horry County Schools will pay $260,000 to settle a lawsuit with a school board member who sued the board after she fell walking into a 2017 meeting.
The school board on Monday unanimously voted to settle the case with District 2 board member Sherrie Todd, who represents parts of Myrtle Beach and Carolina Forest. Todd recused herself from the vote.
In her complaint, which was filed in 2019, Todd said she was trying to enter the school district’s headquarters on Four Mile Road for a Dec. 13, 2017, board meeting when she fell on the stairs leading up to the building’s entryway.
There was no railing on the stairway and that’s a violation of state building codes, according to the lawsuit. Prior to Todd’s fall, two other people had been seriously injured on the same staircase, which the lawsuit called an “unreasonably dangerous and hazardous condition.”
“The Board knew or should have known that the building, and specifically the lack of handrails on the stairs, did not comply with applicable South Carolina Building Codes and industry safety standards,” the lawsuit stated. “The Board knew or should have known that the lack of handrails on the steps was a safety hazard to employees, guests, and invitees on its property.”
Todd fractured her left humerus during the fall, and the severity of her injuries required three surgeries. The humerus is a bone in the arm that runs from the shoulder to the elbow.
“[The board] owed Ms. Todd a duty to warn, remedy and take reasonable safety measures to prevent latent hazardous or unsafe conditions from occurring on its property and to otherwise maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition for persons or guests that may visit the property,” the lawsuit stated.
In its initial response to the lawsuit, the board argued that Todd should have been more careful.
“Any injuries or damages sustained by Plaintiff, if any, as set forth in the Complaint, were due to and caused by her own negligence, carelessness, gross negligence, recklessness, willfulness and wantonness in one or more of the following particulars: a) In failing to look where she was walking; b) In wearing inappropriate shoes; c) In failing to take those measures which a reasonably prudent person would have taken under the circumstances then and there existing; and d) In such other particulars as may be established at trial.”
In December, the board sought to amend its response, adding that Todd should have been aware of any risks because she serves on the school board.
“If the Horry County School Board knew or should have known that the lack of handrails on the stairs did not comply with applicable building codes and safety standards, that the lack of handrails on the stairs was a safety hazard, that at least two other individuals were injured using the same stairs plaintiff was using, and that the stairs were an unreasonably dangerous and hazardous condition existing in a location where an invitee would foreseeably walk, then that knowledge is imputed to plaintiff who is a member of the Horry County School Board and, therefore, with that knowledge of the conditions, risk, and danger then and there existing and in choosing to use the stairs she assumed the risk of the loss, injury, and damage she received,” the board's motion stated.
Court records also indicate that the two sides sparred over whether Todd could receive workers compensation benefits. HCS opposed her claims for benefits on the grounds that she was an elected official, not an employee, and a commissioner sided with the district.
The civil case was scheduled to go to trial last month, but the parties asked to postpone the court date so they could continue settlement talks.
Last week, Todd offered to accept $300,000 to resolve the matter, according to court records. She gave the board 20 days to decide.
Then came Monday's vote.
Todd was first elected to the school board in 2014.