DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. – The attorney representing the mother of a 3-year-old girl who was killed after a lunch table fell on top of her while attending the Head Start program at St. Albert's Church in Dearborn Heights said he was forced to file suit after "repeated delays" to reach a resolution and disagreements about who is to blame.
Attorney Greg Rohl said Lilliana Kerr's death is the fault of dilapidated lunchroom tables used in schools across the country. The $10 million lawsuit was filed Tuesday against St. Albert the Great Catholic Church, the Archdiocese of Detroit and the Wayne Metro Head Start program. Rohl is representing Lilliana's mother, Tabatha Kerr, who was at Thursday's news conference.
Watch part of the news conference here:
"I guess there is some disagreement between the defendants as to who bears most of the blame between the Head Start program and the Archdiocese of Detroit. Frankly, I don't care," said Rohl. "I want to move forward to make sure that this family is able to put this behind them and is properly recompensed."
Rohl said though the lawsuit is seeking $10 million he is prepared to take anything a jury is willing to award him and the family.
Lilliana was killed Jan. 20 in the St. Albert school gymnasium by a piece of falling equipment. Dearborn Heights police said the children were at recess about 11 a.m. that day when a table-type piece of equipment in the gymnasium collapsed and fell on the 3-year-old girl.
Tabatha Kerr's friends said she is a single mother who worked tirelessly to provide for her children.
"Tabby's a hard-working woman. She takes care of her babies. This is devastating," said her friend, Sandi Jacokes.
Rohl said the mother is undergoing therapy.
"She's trying to pick up the pieces of her life which have been fragmented since the death of her daughter," the attorney said. "This harsh reality needs to be addressed both for my client personally, and I believe for the other children in the state of Michigan as well to make sure this never happens again."
Rohl said the CEO of Head Start told him the family "would be taken care of." However, due to what he calls "repeated delays" he said he was forced to file a lawsuit.
"We were prepared to sit down and try to achieve a resolution," he said. "But we are forced to file a lawsuit at this juncture."
What happened at St. Albert
Police called it a "freak accident. The Wayne County Medical Examiner ruled the death an accident. Lilliana died from blunt force trauma to her head.
"They were engaged in some type of recess or activities within the gymnasium," Dearborn Heights police Lt. Mark Meyers said at the time. "A mechanism that's equipped inside the gymnasium failed at some point. That's what we're investigating. A child was injured due to it, and those injuries turned out to be fatal."
The equipment fell on the girl with a gym full of small children and teachers watching, police said.
"These women did everything possible to assure that that child was given the best care for our fire department to come, and they're devastated by what happened, and right now they're trying to come to grips with the events," Meyers said.
The child care center is located at St. Albert the Great Catholic School in the south end of Dearborn Heights. St. Albert the Great School closed years ago, and Wayne Metro Head Start of Detroit rents the old school building from the church to run its Head Start program.
Wayne Metro Head Start dismissed children immediately after the incident and the program was closed for the day.
Head Start comments on lawsuit
Wayne Metro Community Action Agency, which runs the Wayne Metro Head Start program, offered the following statement Thursday afternoon:
"Over the course of the past few weeks our Agency has been actively working with Mr. Rohl on behalf of the Kerr family toward a timely resolution. We understand a timely resolution is what is in the best interest of the Kerr family and this remains a top priority for our organization."