OSU files response to motorist’s lawsuit against Sutton

STILLWATER Okla.

Oklahoma State University has filed a response to a lawsuit by a Perry woman who was injured in a traffic collision last year with former basketball coach Eddie Sutton.

“We admit (Sutton) was negligent in hitting her,” OSU attorney Mort G. Welch told the Tulsa World. “OSU was legally responsible as his employer.”

Teresa Jean Barnard sued Sutton, 71, OSU and several others in Payne County District Court on Aug. 8.

An award against OSU for damages for Barnard’s bodily injuries from the collision cannot exceed $125,000 under state law, Welch, an Oklahoma City lawyer, said in court documents filed last week.

In answering the lawsuit, OSU denied Barnard’s allegation that the university’s “athletic, medical, security and police staff negligently assisted, enabled and allowed” Sutton to operate an OSU vehicle “while Sutton was under the influence of alcohol and/or other intoxicating substances.”

Sutton pleaded no contest to charges of aggravated drunken driving, driving left of center and speeding in the Feb. 10, 2006, crash. His blood-alcohol level after the accident was nearly three times the legal driving limit of 0.08, court records show.

Witnesses told police that about 15 minutes before the collision, Sutton became unsteady on his feet as he was leaving OSU’s Gallagher-Iba Arena and struck his head when he fell in the parking lot. He refused an ambulance and insisted on driving himself to the Stillwater airport, according to a police report.

OSU police officers Justin Hart and James Battles Jr.; OSU Center for Health Sciences physicians Thomas Allen and Robert Distefano and former OSU Associate Athletic Director Joe Muller also are named in Barnard’s lawsuit.

“Mr. Sutton and the other individuals have no personal liability since they were acting in the scope of their employment. You cannot hold an employee of the state personally responsible under the Tort Claims Act if they are in the scope of employment,” Welch said.

Punitive damages cannot be assessed against the university under state law, Welch said in his answer to the lawsuit. The school also can’t be held liable for damage to Barnard’s vehicle, since she has been paid for the damage by her automobile insurer, he said in court documents.

In a tort claim filed in February as a precursor to the lawsuit, Barnard, 44, wrote that as a result of the collision with the university vehicle that Sutton was driving, she sprained her spine, sprained and tore her right knee, injured her right hip and suffered headaches, as well as mental anguish.

Sutton was placed on probation for a year as part of a plea bargain that required him to undergo extended inpatient alcohol-abuse treatment. He paid $1,438 in fines and court costs and attended a victim-impact panel in Stillwater.

A record of the case was expunged in May when a judge ruled that Sutton had successfully completed his probation.

Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com

– Associated Press



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