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School didn't effectively address bullies, lawsuit alleged

Amount:

$1,000,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

New York

Venue:

Sullivan County

Court:

Sullivan Supreme

Injury Type(s):

head-headaches; mental/psychological; mental/psychological-insomnia; mental/psychological-post-traumatic stress disorder

Case Type:

School - Negligent Supervision

Case Name:

In the Matter of Claims of Christine Horne Motta and Anthony Motta Individually and as Natural Guardians for Their Infant Child: Anthony Motta v. Eldred Central School District, No. 3020/13

Date:

October 25, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Anthony Motta , 

Anthony Motta Jr. (Male, 13 Years), 

Christine Horne Motta

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

JenniElena Rubino; Rubino Law Firm; Yonkers, NY, for Anthony Motta, Anthony Motta Jr., Christine Horne Motta ■ Jean-Paul Le Du; Rubino Law Firm; Yonkers, NY, for Anthony Motta, Anthony Motta Jr., Christine Horne Motta

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Marc Mednick; Ph.D.; Clinical Psychology; Goshen, NY called by: JenniElena Rubino, Jean-Paul Le Du ■ Barbara Coloroso; Child Development; Littleton, CO called by: JenniElena Rubino, Jean-Paul Le Du

Defendant(s):

Eldred Central School District

Defense Attorney(s):

Wendy DeWind; Hogan, Sarzynski, Lynch, DeWind & Gregory, LLP; Johnson City, NY, for Eldred Central School District ■ Cameron Daniels; Hogan, Sarzynski, Lynch, DeWind & Gregory, LLP; Johnson City, NY, for Eldred Central School District

Defendant Expert(s):

JoAnn Durante; Administration; Easton, PA called by: Wendy DeWind, Cameron Daniels ■ Barbara Baer; Cognitive Psychology; Ardsley, NY called by: Wendy DeWind, Cameron Daniels

Insurer(s):

New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal

Facts:

During the summer of 2009, plaintiff Anthony Motta Jr., 12, began attending Eldred Junior-Senior High School, which is located at 600 State Route 55, in Eldred. Anthony, who lisped, claimed that he quickly became the target of bullies. He complained to the school's administrators, but he claimed that the bullying worsened. During the spring of 2010, Anthony became involved in a physical altercation with another student. Anthony claimed that he was retaliating against bullying, but the other student suffered a concussion in the altercation. Criminal charges were filed against Anthony, and the school suspended him. The matter was resolved in juvenile court, where a judge determined that Anthony would spend 30 days in a juvenile psychiatric center. Anthony was transferred to another school in early 2013, but he claimed that he suffers lasting residual effects of bullying. Anthony's father and mother, acting individually and as Anthony's parents and natural guardians, sued the school's operator, the Eldred Central School District. The lawsuit alleged that the school's administrators were negligent in their supervision of the school's students. Anthony claimed that he was subjected to physical bullying--including an incident in which he was choked to the point of near-suffocation--that he was repeatedly subjected to use of homophobic slurs and mocking of his lisp, that bullies repeatedly stole and broke his belongings, that he was twice stuffed into lockers, and that he endured an incident in which bullies stole, and urinated upon, his hat. Plaintiffs' counsel contended that the school's administrators did not adequately address Anthony's repeated complaints regarding bullying. The school's guidance counselor conducted mediation sessions involving the alleged bullies, but Anthony claimed that mediation worsened the bullying. Plaintiffs' counsel presented an anti-bullying expert, who opined that mediation is the worst method of addressing bullying. One witness, one of Anthony's fellow students, claimed that she was bullied by the students who allegedly bullied Anthony, and she further claimed that her situation was similarly addressed with a similarly ineffective outcome. Another witness also claimed to have been bullied by the students who allegedly bullied Anthony, and she claimed that her situation was not addressed by the school's administrators. Defense counsel contended that Anthony exaggerated his reports of bullying and, in many instances, treated other students as harshly as he claimed to have been treated. They claimed that a security guard was assigned to regularly monitor Anthony, but that Anthony did not report problems to the guard. The defense's school-administration expert opined that the school's administrators appropriately addressed Anthony's complaints, but she also conceded that the school's staff did not ensure Anthony's safety.

Injury:

Anthony claimed that he was subjected to physical bullying--including an incident in which he was choked to the point of near-suffocation--that he was repeatedly subjected to use of homophobic slurs and mocking of his lisp, that bullies repeatedly stole and broke his belongings, that he was twice stuffed into lockers, and that he endured an incident in which bullies stole, and urinated upon, his hat. Anthony claimed that he existed in a state of constant fear and hyperarousal. He also claimed that the bullying and his residual worries greatly harmed his academic performance and resulted in him having to repeat the ninth grade of his education. After one incident in which Anthony concussed an alleged bully, Anthony was charged criminally and ultimately sent to a juvenile psychiatric facility, where he underwent 30 days of counseling. He also underwent about a year of voluntary psychological counseling. Anthony's treating doctor opined that Anthony suffers post-traumatic stress disorder. Anthony claimed that he experiences lingering symptoms that include insomnia, migraines and a fear of public places. He claimed that he lives a largely reclusive life. Anthony sought recovery of damages for past and future pain and suffering. His parents sought recovery of damages for 30 days of lost parental rights, stemming from Anthony's time in a juvenile psychiatric center. The defense's expert psychologist opined that Anthony does not suffer residual effects of bullying.

Result:

The jury found that the school's administrators were negligent in their supervision of Anthony, and it determined that their negligence was a substantial cause of Anthony's injuries. The jury also found that Anthony and his parents did not undertake sufficient efforts to address Anthony's situation, but it determined that their negligence was not a substantial cause of Anthony's injuries. The jury determined that the plaintiffs' damages totaled $1 million.

Anthony Motta: $30,000 Personal Injury: loss of parental rights; Christine Horne Motta: $30,000 Personal Injury: loss of parental rights; Anthony Motta Jr.: $300,000 Personal Injury: Past Pain And Suffering; $640,000 Personal Injury: Future Pain And Suffering

Trial Information:

Judge:

Stephan G. Schick

Demand:

$600,000 (total, by all plaintiffs)

Offer:

$75,000 (total, for all plaintiffs)

Trial Length:

8  days

Trial Deliberations:

4  hours

Jury Vote:

6-0

Jury Composition:

1 male/ 5 female

Post Trial:

Defense counsel has expressed an intention to challenge the verdict.

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs' and defense counsel. Additional information was gleaned from an article that was published by NBCNewYork.com.