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The Day My Wife was Sued for $2.6 Million

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My wife taught one year of third grade at Licking County Christian Academy in Newark, Ohio — 1980-1981. The unaccredited school was operated by the Newark Baptist Temple — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregation pastored by Polly’s uncle, the late James (Jim) Dennis. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.)

As Polly will admit, she was grossly unprepared and unqualified to teach school, but LCCA needed a teacher and we needed the money, so Polly dutifully tried to manage a class of third graders.

After Polly left LCCA, we helped her father start an IFB church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. In the spring of 1983, Polly learned that a student of hers, Eddie Linders was alleging that he had suffered serious physical injuries after being beaten up by fellow student, Stan Toomey. Linders’ parents sued LCCA, the Baptist Temple, Toomey’s parents, and Polly — as the boys’ teacher.

The 1983 lawsuit was dismissed. I was unable to find any news report on the original suit. The lawsuit was refiled in 1985.

The Newark Advocate reported on April 5, 1985 (behind paywall):

Lawsuit seeks $2.6 Million in Damages

A former Licking Countian has filed a $2.6 million suit in Common Pleas Court, seeking damages from the family of a boy she claims beat her son several times during April and May of 1981. Patricia Nelson, of Brooksville. Fla., filed suit Thursday on behalf of her 14-year-old son, Edwin. Ms. Nelson alleges Stan Toomey of Alexandria beat her son up while they were both students of the Licking County Christian Academy, run by the Newark Baptist Temple. She filed an earlier version of the suit in 1983, but it was dismissed March 15 of this year. Ms. Nelson seeks $1.6 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive, damages from the Toomey youth and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Earl Toomey, of 4472 Lobdell Road, Alexandria, and Polly Gerencser, of the Emanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake. Ms. Gerencser was a teacher at the school at the time of the alleged incidents and should have controlled Toomey’s behavior, Ms. Nelson said. She also seeks to hold his parents responsible While Thursday’s suit does not enumerate Linders’ injuries, the first claim said he suffered from dislocation of the vertebra, swollen legs, bruises and head injuries. Ms. Nelson seeks a jury trial.

This suit was also tossed out of court. According to Polly, she wasn’t even in the classroom when the alleged assaults occurred, and best she can remember, all the Toomey boy had was a bloody nose. Besides being sued for $2.6 million, what was most irritating about this lawsuit was the fact that Pastor Dennis — remember, he’s Polly’s uncle — didn’t bother to tell us about the suit. We read about it in the newspaper. Needless to say, we weren’t happy.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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4 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Geoff

    I assume the matter was dealt with via the school’s insurers? It must have been quite a beating to generate a claim at that level, and evidence would have been readily available, if it were true, in the form of witnesses to the event, ambulance and medical attention, hospital treatment, aftercare. Sounds more like a playground punchup. If my parents had been sued for every such time I was involved in one of those we’d have been bankrupt long before I left school.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Yes, the church’s insurer covered all the legal aspects of the suits. On the day of the second trial, the woman and her son didn’t show. The judge dismissed the case — with prejudice. I can’t recall if the judge ordered them to pay attorney fees and costs.

  2. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    I think an important aspect of this story is what it says about behaviour in the school environment. In my public school, yard fights at recess were a regular spill-over of school life. Just about always it was boys fighting boys and it was very seldom that a teacher was near the incident to break it up. Just as I observed hockey devolve after the first expansion from 6 teams, the ‘refs/teachers’ would stand back and let the combatants fight for a bit before breaking it up. Players would be penalized but fights became an essential part of the ‘game’.
    As for lawsuits, no country will ever match the USA for litigious orgy. And bullies are everywhere to be found, even wearing the cross of gentle Jesus. I believe that my older brother became a hardened, brutal adolescent partly because of the Jesus of evangelical belief. The black and white thinking encouraged him to seek release in harming his own brothers and being proud of it. Afweer all, once they convince you that your own heart is rotten, well, anything goes. Boys will be boys, as they say…

  3. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    As someone who’s taught, I will say that no one, no matter his or her background or training, is ever prepared for the first day in front of a classroom.

    It sounds like the kids’ parents were after a payday, and when they realized it wouldn’t be as easy as they’d hoped it would be, they gave up–and didn’t show up for the trial.

    (Sarcasm alert) Bruce, your in-law really showed some Christian love.

    Brian: I find your comment about the NHL is spot-on. I started following the league and sport right about the time it expanded. At that time, some people argued there wasn’t enough talent for a 6-team league: It was drawing from a talent pool that consisted only of players from Canada, northern New England and the upper Midwest of the US. Those critics may have had a point: Coaches and general managers realized that if they couldn’t win (or simply be competitive) on talent, they could take down their more gifted opponents. That is how guys who could chop or punch better than they could skate or score ended up on NHL rosters. And refs realized that if they called every penalty those guys committed, no game would ever be completed.

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