Lawsuit alleges Ridgefield mayor hurt Vancouver councilwoman's eye

Jeanne Harris is seeking damages from Ron Onslow and the city of Ridgefield over 2011 incident

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

Updated: November 7, 2013, 6:49 PM

 
photoVancouver City Council member Jeanne Harris in 2011.
photoRon Onslow

Vancouver City Councilwoman Jeanne Harris has filed a lawsuit against the city of Ridgefield and Mayor Ron Onslow, saying an errant stress-relief ball he tossed during a 2011 Association of Washington Cities conference has left her essentially blind in one eye.

The ball, she says, smacked her in the side of the face, partially detaching her left retina. The lawsuit is an extension of a $500,000 insurance claim Harris filed in July 2012.

Onslow described the ball, which was handed to him at the conference, as Nerf-like and said it was intended for Ridgefield City Councilman Don Stose.

“I just sort of tossed it at one of my councilmen, thinking it would bounce off him,” Onslow said. “She leaned in, and it sort of hit her in the side of the head. I was mortified I hit someone, especially in the face.”

Harris’ attorney, Longview-based Joseph Daggy, said little had changed since he filed the insurance claim in 2012. Earlier in the year, he sent an amended claim to Ridgefield’s risk management officer but did not receive a response he found suitable.

The city has not been served with the lawsuit, City Manager Phil Messina said. When that happens, the lawsuit will be passed on to the Washington Cities Insurance Authority to be processed.

Although no monetary figure is mentioned in the court documents, filed Monday in Clark County Superior Court, Daggy said it’s possible the sought-after damages will exceed $500,000.

“We looked at some (other) verdict results,” Daggy said. “We analyzed the problems she was having … and we talked to people who were familiar with this problem.”

Seven surgeries

Harris has undergone seven unsuccessful surgeries, she said, leaving her with pain, discomfort and blurriness in her left eye. They’ve been covered by a workers’ compensation claim, which she says she may have to pay back.

The lawsuit alleges that Onslow’s negligence has caused Harris physical and emotional distress, along with a diminished ability to earn a living.

Harris has faced mounting financial problems in recent years.

Harris receives medical insurance through the city, but that’s set to expire at the end of the year because she lost her bid for re-election during the summer primary and will be replaced by Anne McEnerny-Ogle.

Her sole source of income comes from her part-time position on city council, for which she receives an annual salary of $21,372. She previously ran a local branch of Allstate Insurance, but closed it in 2011.

She filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy the same year, claiming in court filings that she owed more than $500,000. Her wages are also being garnisheed, she said. That means her monthly take-home pay is roughly $1,000, she added.