High Court Hears Arguments Over Rampaging Youths

High Court Hears Arguments Over Rampaging Youths

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Supreme Court has heard arguments over whether students sued for allegedly breaking into a home are collectively responsible for damage done or each is responsible only for his own damage.

The incident stemmed from a violent rivalry between groups of East High and West High students. Two West students wanted revenge after allegedly being assaulted at a sporting event against East High and later at a Halloween party.

In the late evening of Nov. 2, 2001, around 15 to 20 West High students, purportedly went to a home they erroneously believed was that of one of the East students.

Instead the group, carrying bottles and baseball bats, went to the home of Rick Jedrziewski, where school friends of his daughter were visiting.

Jedrziewski claims the boys smashed windows and forced open doors. When the windows broke, most of the boys ran away. Jedrziewski and one his daughter's friends chased after several boys. One punched the girl in the nose and others allegedly assaulted Jedrziewski with baseball bats. The man claims he was beaten unconscious.

Jedrziewski's family and the family of his daughter's friends filed a civil suit against the group of West High students under a claim of conspiracy that holds each student liable for the group's actions.

"It was all intentional. Every act was intentional, willful and violent," Jedrziewski's attorney, Richard Burbidge, argued before the Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Burbidge said it was clear the raid on the house was a conspiracy, given that the group not only met to plan it in advance, but then met afterward to form an alibi.

The fact that more than a dozen students took part is also significant in that a mob mentality could prove more dangerous than one or two persons. "Human actions become more lethal and they become more conspiratorial" in a large group, Burbidge argued.

Attorneys for some of the boys argued that their clients should be held liable only for the damage they themselves caused.

Attorney James Jardine said it was the Legislature's intent when it passed the Liability Reform Act to prevent one person from being held liable for the actions of others.

Chief Justice Christine Durham said the law was intended to prevent attaching "unnamed" parties to civil suits.

At issue, Durham said, is not whether these are innocent parties, but rather if they should be held liable for their individual conduct.

Justice Jill Parrish said to find a conspiracy, the participants must know what will take place. She suggested that perhaps it should be left up to the jury to decide how the liability should be divided.

Outside court, Jardine said he agreed that a jury is smart enough to decide who should be held liable rather than holding all who participated equally responsible. "When the window broke, most of them ran away," he said.

Burbidge said a jury trial is on hold in 3rd District Court, pending the Supreme Court's ruling.

Burbidge said many of the students went through juvenile court, where they were given light fines and probation.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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