KNOXVILLE – A Knox County Circuit Court jury this evening awarded a former West High School Junior ROTC cadet $65,000 as damages for emotional distress the panel opined was caused by her former instructor’s negligence.
But Judge Wheeler Rosenbalm issued a separate ruling clearing the Knox County Board of Education of negligence claims.
The school system and former ROTC instructor David A. Higgins, 54, were being sued by a former female cadet who said she has suffered extreme emotional distress and other psychological damage.
Because of state law requirements, a jury tried Higgins, while Rosenbalm determined the fate of the school board.
According to evidence and testimony at the trial, Higgins had the victim and other female cadets engage in such activities as baring their breasts while running and doing pushups. He also was accused of directing female cadets to make racy videotapes.
The victim is now 20 and a college student. She is still undergoing therapy. She is the sole complainant in the lawsuit.
Higgins has pleaded guilty in criminal court to a felony for arranging the destruction of some of the tapes of the activities.
The jury began hearing final arguments late this morning.
“This case is about a lost childhood,” said the girl’s attorney Stephen Burroughs. “This case is about a teacher who used his power to satisfy his own perverse interests.”
Higgins’ attorney Ben Barnett conceded that Higgins unwisely allowed inappropriate behavior by some girls in his class, but never encouraged it and never touched any of the girls. He argued that the lawsuit is largely driven by the girl’s mother and is about money.