Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pomona School District Found Liable for Teacher Abusing Child

As a recent case in Los Angeles County demonstrates, school districts may be found to be liable for the actions of one of their employees when the employees sexually abuse children attending the schools. School districts have a duty of care that they owe to students. When they fail to meet that duty and a child is then abused and suffers harm, the school district may be liable to pay damages in a resulting civil lawsuit. 

Factual background of the case

A 14-year-old girl who attended Lorbeer Middle School in the Pomona Unified School District was repeatedly sexually abused by her middle school history teacher. The abuses occurred in the man's locked classroom, on a trip to DisneyLand and off-campus in the man's home. Other teachers allegedly reported concerns about the teacher's behavior, including his writing numerous hall passes for the girl to be released from her other classrooms as well as being discovered alone with her in his locked classroom. Despite the reports, the school district did not do anything when the principal was informed of the different early warning signs of the sexual abuse. The teacher was later convicted of 17 felonies at his criminal trial, including several counts of having unlawful sexual intercourse with the girl. The girl filed a civil lawsuit against both the former teacher who abused her as well as against the school district for its negligence in her abuse.

Plaintiff's contentions

The plaintiff argued that the school district was negligent with its supervision of the teacher during the 2010 to 2011 school year, which was when the abuse occurred. The plaintiff claimed that she suffered from severe emotional distress as a result of the abuse and of the school's negligence.

Defendant's arguments

The school district argued that all of the assaults happened off of school grounds. It also argued about the nature and extent of the injuries to the plaintiff. Before trial, the defendant extended a $1 million settlement offer.

Jury verdict

On May 10, 2016, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff against the school and the teacher. The jury found that the school district was 80 percent liable, and the former teacher was 20 percent liable, returning a gross verdict amount of $8,050,000. Of that amount, $7 million was awarded for the plaintiff's past noneconomic damages, $1 million was awarded for her future noneconomic damages and $50,000 was awarded for her future medical expenses. 

Application of the law to the facts

In order for a plaintiff to prevail in a lawsuit against a school district for the abuse committed by one of its teachers, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the school either knew about or should reasonably have known about the abuse. In the girl's case, several teachers had complained about the former teacher repeatedly using hall passes to have the girl leave other teachers' classrooms. One teacher had caught the two together in the man's locked classroom and had told the man that he better stop whatever was going on. 

The principal also reportedly discovered the girl was missing from school one day and called the former teacher. The teacher had removed the girl from school that day to take her to his home, where he had sex with her. Upon receiving the phone call, he returned the girl to school. Despite all of these warning signs, the school did not do anything to the teacher, and although the principal reported the incident to the assistant superintendent, the school never engaged in a formal investigation.

Contact a Los Angeles sexual abuse attorney

If you are a parent who suspects that your child is being abused or has been abused by a teacher or other adult at his or her school, it is important for you to get legal help. A Los Angeles sexual abuse attorney may analyze how the school responded and whether the officials either knew or should have known that the abuse was or had occurred. If your attorney determines that the school district acted negligently, he or she may agree to accept representation and then fight to help you to recover damages for all of the losses that you and your family have suffered. To learn about whether or not you have grounds to make a legal claim, contact a Los Angeles sexual abuse attorney today (click here for more information).