Harris seeks $500K, says Ridgefield mayor injured her eye

Ron Onslow says foam ball hit Vancouver City Council member's temple

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Jeanne Harris' $500,000 damage claim

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Vancouver City Council member Jeanne Harris has filed a $500,000 insurance claim with the city of Ridgefield, saying that Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow hit her with a stress-relief ball, leading to the potential loss of sight in her left eye.

Onslow's toss caused her left retina to become loose and partially detached, Harris wrote in a claim for damages filed June 11. She told The Columbian she has had six unsuccessful surgeries over the past year to repair the eye.

The incident happened at an Association of Washington Cities meeting in Spokane in June 2011. At some point, foam balls with a globe printed on them were distributed to the assembled local government officials. Onslow said he attempted to tag Ridgefield City Councilor Don Stose with his ball but missed and instead struck Harris.

"I lobbed it, I didn't throw it," Onslow said last week. "It was an errant little toss and it hit the side of her face, her temple."

The mayor said that at the time, Harris was surprised, but that he apologized and he thought that was the end. In the claim, Harris listed Washougal Mayor Sean Guard, Washougal Councilor Paul Greenlee and Ridgefield Councilor David Taylor as witnesses.

Harris' attorney, Longview-based Joseph Daggy, said the demanded payment, $500,000, was chosen because it may be enough to recompense for the loss of something as significant as an eye. Harris, 56, has health insurance through her position on the city council.

"Health insurance might cover the treatment, but that doesn't cover the damages and the loss," Daggy said. "It's a severe injury and she has a right to be compensated for those injuries and to be made whole for those injuries."

Daggy said the claim may reach a resolution. The claim has been referred to the city's insurance agency, the Washington Cities Insurance Authority. However, if Harris and the insurance company can't reach an agreement, the next steps may be litigation, arbitration, or structured negotiation.

Harris, who is undergoing a contentious divorce, has been going through financial difficulties. She filed for bankruptcy in early 2011 and has since had her debts discharged through that process. Harris formerly ran an Allstate Insurance agency but closed it last year. Her job as a part-time city council member pays $21,372 a year.

When asked if her financial troubles led to filing a claim against the city of Ridgefield, Harris replied: "Oh my God, are you kidding me? I lost an eye! They are not connected. … One has nothing to do with the other. Don't you dare say that to me!"

Daggy, her lawyer, noted that filing a claim for damages is the appropriate way to go about resolving Harris' issue.

"Another person threw a rubberized ball, shaped like a world globe, hit her in the eye, caused problems and they have gotten worse," Daggy said. "It's a serious injury, it's not a financial move."

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://www.twitter.com/col_cityhall;andrea.damewood@columbian.com.