If Meagan Petry’s dormitory accident had never occurred four years ago, she would likely be enjoying her spring break or gaining experience at an internship, followed by a graduation ceremony and bachelor’s degree.
However, her accident did happen: the aluminum railing she was leaning against snapped and broke, sending the 18-year-old student falling from the top floor of Turner House to the dirt ground below, breaking her legs, ankles and jaw.
At a press conference today, a day before the four-year anniversary of her fall, Petry, now able to walk after years of rehab and multiple surgeries, and her family announced that they have filed a lawsuit against SCAD and the parties responsible for the construction of the residence hall, citing that the college failed at protecting its students – a move that SCAD fears will “impugn the eyes of the local Chatham County jury pool,” court documents say.
During the press conference, Petry, now 22, along with her parents Richard and Katherine and their attorney Paul R. D’Amato, recalls what she is able to from the day of her fall.
“I was standing by the railing, when my back started to hurt … I put my hands on the railing to steady myself … and the next thing I remember, I’m holding on to a post because the railing broke.”
The New Jersey native was more worried about her friend who was reaching for her.
“I was trying to make sure my friend didn’t fall as well,” she said. “I knew that I was pretty high up, and if I contextualized how high I was, I’d get scared.”
“I don’t remember thinking ‘it’s over.’ I was trying to stay positive. If I fall on my feet, my legs will break, but I might still make it out of this.”
Despite her friend’s assistance, they couldn’t pull her up.
“We tried to get me back up and we couldn’t, and then … I fell.”
The next thing Petry remembers is waking up in Memorial University Medical Center two weeks later where trauma surgeons had saved her life. But that was not the end of Petry’s ordeal.
“I’ve had at least 20 surgeries; I’ve lost count,” Petry said, who has another surgery coming up this year.
“Each time I have surgery, it’s very hard. It’s very taxing. Each time I get cut open, it takes its toll.”
Petry has regained the use of her legs, but can only use them to walk; running, jumping, or other extended use is out of the question. With her life taken over by an extended recovery process, Petry and her family wonder how her accident could have been prevented.
Petry and her family are filing a lawsuit against SCAD, as well as the builders hired by the school to construct Turner House, citing that the college failed in its duties to protect and ensure the safety of its students.
“We did some preliminary investigation” said W. Andrew Bowen, Petry’s lawyer based in Savannah. Bowen is working with Paul D’Amato, the family’s New Jersey based attorney.
“At this point in time, we’re just trying to find some accountability, some explanation as to why this happened.”
Meanwhile, in an attempt to prevent Petry and her attorneys from making a public statement regarding the lawsuit and the suggested accountability of the school, the defendants moved to suppress their former student from having such a press conference.
The attempted gag order states that because of the “ethical requirements governing the handling of pretrial publicity” and because Petry lives in New Jersey, they “have no connection to the city of Savannah or this venue.”
According to Richard Middleton, another Savannah attorney representing Petry, a judge ruled against this motion in the plaintiff’s favor.
“Meagan [has] First Amendment rights,” Middleton said.
The lawsuit named SCAD as the primary defendant, in addition to Beers Skanksa, Inc., the general contractor; The Carson Company, the construction manager; Roberto A. Beauchamp, the architect; Aiken, Aiken, & Sheetz Architects; HADP Architecture, Inc; Atlantic Steel Installations Inc.; Atlantic Steel Inc.; and University Housing Services.
The pending lawsuit seeks $600,000 from each defendant to help cover the medical expenses that the Petry family has accrued through the years and continues to face.
However, Petry said that she has no qualms with the college.
“I love SCAD and all they represent.” she said.
“I have friends that have graduated, and they’re taking the world by storm.”
All she wants now is an answer.
“I want an explanation,” Petry said. “I don’t really have anger towards anybody, I just want to know why it happened, and I want to be sure it doesn’t happen to anybody again.”
Editor’s note: Revisions have been made to accurately reflect the names of companies and individuals.Contact Daniel Alvarez.