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California Jury Awards $26M to Special Education Student over Sexual Assault

On Behalf of | Sep 26, 2022 | Child Sexual Abuse

In May 2016, three male students at Focus Point Academy in Pasadena sexually assaulted an 11-year-old special education student. More than six years later, in response to a 2018 lawsuit accusing the district of negligence, a jury awarded the student $26 million in damages after agreeing that Pasadena Unified School District was negligent and liable for the sexual abuse by the male students. The victim alleged that previous violent incidents occurred at the school but were not disclosed to the girl’s social worker.

A Teacher’s Aide Negligently Left the Vulnerable Student Unsupervised

According to the lawsuit, the 11-year-old plaintiff was in a program for emotionally disturbed children when a teacher’s aide left her alone with other classmates on May 17, 2016. Plaintiff alleges that the three boys then dragged her behind a building, with one reportedly saying, “it’s rape time.” Despite her pleas for them to stop, the boys pinned her against a wall and groped her before raping her with their fingers and a metal paper clip, which left permanent injuries. The girl was allegedly institutionalized due to the attack.

The District Denied Responsibility but a Jury Disagreed

The complaint faulted the school district for knowing of the girl’s special education needs but taking no steps to protect her despite previous incidents occurring at the school. The lawsuit accused the district of failing to take reasonable care to protect the girl from harm or serious injury.

Pasadena Unified School District argued that the girl should not receive monetary damages. But jurors disagreed. They awarded the victim $12.5 million for the pain and suffering she has already experienced and another $13.5 million for future pain and suffering.  The District Attorney criminally charged the male student who attacked her with forcible penetration without the consent of a minor with a foreign object and lewd acts with a child under 14. There is no update on the status of the criminal case against the individual defendants.

The Verdict Is a Warning to Schools to Pay Attention and to Take All Reasonable Steps to Protect Its Students

Sexual assault should never be tolerated and schools must take all reasonable steps to keep students safe. As this case illustrates, schools can be held negligently responsible for an assault by its students. Schools may lack the proper oversight or neglect to have policies and procedures in place, resulting in an environment where assault occurs. If you or someone you love are victims of sexual assault, seeking experienced legal guidance is advisable to hold those responsible accountable.

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