Parenting a child with special needs can be challenging, but parents have a right to expect that their children will be safe at school. When an innocent child is harmed because of a school district’s negligence, those in power must be held accountable.
Our client was an 11-year-old girl with various emotional and intellectual disabilities who was molested on the school bus by the bus driver. We were able to secure a $2 million settlement that will provide for her needs now and in the future.
A Violation of Our Client’s IEP
An IEP is an Individualized Education Program. Essentially, the IEP can be thought of as a map that lays out the program of special education instruction, supports, and services a child needs to succeed in school. Each IEP is designed to meet the student’s unique needs—whether that includes an intellectual, emotional, or physical disability. A student’s IEP is covered by special education law and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Due to our client’s condition, she has a difficult time determining appropriate boundaries in relation to physical expressions of affection. Her parents were working on developing this skill at home, but her IEP specifically requested that adults not hug her or encourage similar affectionate behavior towards classmates. Her parents had been in regular communication with her teachers about the importance of following this aspect of her IEP, but they trusted the school to convey the message to the various support staff who interacted with their daughter throughout the day.
Our client’s IEP was not discussed with the school bus driver or transportation service. The driver only knew that the students on the bus all had special needs.
Over a period of roughly one month, the driver engaged in progressively increasing inappropriate behavior with our client. Due to her disability, our client had no way of fully understanding what was happening on the bus each day. The grooming and abuse occurred even with other children riding in the back of the bus.
An Innocent Comment Reveals the Truth
The bus driver’s actions were discovered when our client asked her dad if she could buy candy for her “boyfriend.” Thinking she had a crush on one of her classmates, her dad asked about various boys she knew at school. He was shocked to discover that her “boyfriend” was the bus driver.
After the dad contacted the school district and the police, an investigation began. Shockingly, the bus had audio and video recordings of the behavior in question. There was simply no policy in place to regularly review the footage to ensure the children on the bus were not being mistreated. Additionally, there were minimal pre-employment background checks conducted before drivers were hired to work with vulnerable young children.
Securing a Fair Settlement
Sexual abuse cases are always challenging, but this case was particularly difficult because of our client’s disability. Our client wasn’t able to testify, but we contacted experts who could help articulate the damages on her behalf. We worked tirelessly to present a compelling story that illustrated the ways she had been acting out at home since the abuse occurred and how the trauma had affected her development.
Since bus services were outsourced, there was also a question of legal liability. The school district tried to shift blame to the transportation company, while the transportation company argued that the school’s poor communication was at fault.
After tenacious discovery and two rounds of mediation, we were able to secure a $2 million structured settlement from the transportation company and the school. This settlement gave our client’s parents peace of mind, as it will provide for her financial needs even after they are no longer able to care for her at home.
Do You Need to Speak to an Experienced California Personal Injury Attorney?
Unfortunately, children with special needs are three times more likely to be victims of abuse in schools than other children. If you believe your child has been abused by a teacher, bus driver, or other trusted adult, we can help you take action to hold the school or service provider responsible. Our California school physical and sexual abuse lawyers have extensive experience handling these complex cases and will fight tirelessly to protect your child’s rights. Call our office at 949.409.0055 or contact us online to request a meeting with our legal team.