Tom Vertetis and Liz Calora have won a verdict in a private trial for their client, B.W. against the Bainbridge Island School District for negligence. B.W., then an autistic 14-year-old, was bullied and sexually harassed repeatedly and school administrators ignored concerns from parents and teachers for months, until the police became involved. “This is an important verdict for families with disabled children in the public school system,” said plaintiffs’ lead trial attorney Tom Vertetis. “This sends a clear message that bullying of any children, let alone our most vulnerable children is clearly unacceptable. The criminal trial of one of the perpetrators indicated the victim was bullied over 75 times with separate incidents of harassment.
October 24, 2013
October 18, 2013
A $300,000 verdict has been rendered against the Bainbridge Island School District for failing to protect a special needs student from aggressive bullying and sexual harassment.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of B.W. in Kitsap Superior Court in 2010 by the law firm of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC, outlined months of intense bullying and sexual harassment that went disregarded by administrators at the Bainbridge High School.
A judge has ruled that the Bainbridge Island School District was negligent when it failed stop the sexual harassment and bullying of a former special needs student at Bainbridge High School. Retired Judge Terrence Carroll found for the plaintiffs, Jan and Jay Webster, and their son B.W., as he was identified throughout the litigation, and awarded $300,000 in damages for the district’s failure to protect the then 14-year-old disabled high school freshman.
The Websters filed suit in 2010 seeking to hold the school district accountable for its inability and unwillingness to stop a pattern of sexually harassing assaults and bullying by several of B.W.’s fellow Bainbridge High students.
In a written opinion, Judge Carroll agreed with the plaintiffs, “It is rather painfully obvious that the disruption and chaos that this family suffered was to a large degree a direct result of the negligence of the school district.”
As the Judge made clear in his ruling, the school district dropped the ball. As the court documents show, B.W.’s abuse only ended when his parents got fed up with the school’s inaction, obtained a restraining order, and contacted the Bainbridge Island Police. Bainbridge Island Police immediately launched an investigation and ultimately arrested and charged four male high school students back in 2007 for the harassment. All four were found guilty of criminal conduct related to B.W.’s bullying.
Court documents further indicated the parents of the student had made multiple requests for the school administrators to intervene and a concerned teacher even emailed the vice-principals and principal to place them on direct notice of the abuse.
“This is an important verdict for families with disabled children in the public school system,” said plaintiffs’ lead trial attorney Tom Vertetis. “This sends a clear message that bullying of any children, let alone our most vulnerable children is clearly unacceptable. The criminal trial of one of the perpetrators indicated the victim was bullied over 75 times with separate incidents of harassment.
According to court documents, the harassment included exposed genitals, sexualized contact, cyber-bulling and verbal harassment. As a result, B.W. who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, required years of therapy and anti-anxiety medication.
“The attitude of the school district that this type of student victimization happens elsewhere, but not on Bainbridge Island created an environment where the severity of the incidents were downplayed and in some cases completely ignored,” Vertetis said. “If our schools refuse to acknowledge the reality that sexual harassment and bullying happens on campus, our most vulnerable kids will continue to be harmed.”
- Seattle Times: http://blogs.seattletimes.com/today/2013/10/bainbridge-school-district-loses-bullying-suit-must-pay-300000/
- Kitsap Sun: http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2013/oct/18/bainbridge-island-school-district-found-in-2006/
- KOMO News: http://www.komonews.com/news/local/Bainbridge-school-district-loses-bullying-lawsuit–228465741.html
Documents from the Case
October 17, 2013
Attorney Darrell Cochran has filed a new lawsuit against the Olympia School District over two hazing incidents involving a Capitol High School student. Read the news coverage below for more information. If you have experienced a similar abusive incident, contact Darrell Cochran at 253-777-0799 to find out your options.
- Q13 Fox: http://q13fox.com/2013/10/16/lawsuit-filed-against-olympia-school-district-for-alleged-hazing-incidents/
- The Olympian: http://www.theolympian.com/2013/10/15/2777388/suit-filed-in-connection-with.html
September 17, 2013
September 19, 2013
The Federal District Court, Judge Ronald Leighton, denied the Peninsula School District’s request to reconsider a ruling that denied the District’s request to dismiss the lawsuit. In a short opinion, Judge Leighton stated, “The Court can and has ruled that if the facts are proven as alleged by plaintiffs it is tantamount to child abuse which all reasonable citizens clearly deplore, and the teacher would not be entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law.”
September 17, 2013
Federal District Court of the Western District recently denied the Peninsula School District’s motion seeking to dismiss civil right claims in Payne et al. v. Peninsula School District. The order paves the way for trial in a case that was filed in 2006 and delayed in appeals for several years.
In the 2003-2003 school year, when D.P. was only 7-years-old, Peninsula School District special education teacher Jodi Coy repeatedly locked him inside an “isolation room” the size of a closet for punishment. Coy had a fundamental misunderstanding of autism and believed that punishing a child with autism would “break” their behavioral tendencies that she viewed as undesirable or unwanted. Evidence shows that Coy would punish the young children for even the smallest reasons, such as not diligently working.
Originally filed in 2006, Payne has already twice taken a trip to the Ninth Circuit, as well as weathered a petition for certiorari to the US Supreme Court.
The Peninsula School District’s most recent motion to dismiss was its final attempt to have this case dismissed short of trial. By denying the motion, the Federal District Court cleared the case for trial. The appellate law that this case has already generated has been tremendously important to disabled children around the nation; PCVA is very excited about trying the case and continuing to make more valuable contributions to disabled children’s rights.
September 6, 2013
Darrell Cochran and his team have settled a second lawsuit against the Olympia School District for child sexual abuse of a girl by bus driver, Gary Shafer. Shafer admitted to sexually assaulting at least 30 children aboard Olympia School Buses. He pled guilty in August 2011 to molesting three kindergarten bus riders and is now serving 15 years in prison. Gary Shafer “rode-along” other bus drivers’ routes to sexually groom his victims and the Olympia School District did not stop that from happening.
September 6, 2013
An Olympia child and her family have agreed to settle a lawsuit stemming from molestation by former Olympia School District bus driver Gary Shafer for $750,000. The suit, filed on behalf of a then-kindergarten student and her parents, accused the school district of failing to properly supervise Shafer or to adequately train Shafer’s fellow bus drivers about the warning signs of a pedophile.
“Red flags were going up everywhere, but the Olympia School District refused to pay attention,” Tacoma attorney Darrell Cochran said. “Gary Shafer rode on school buses all around the district with children on his lap, and with no other purpose than to molest school children.”
Cochran said that throughout the course of the case, it became clear that, “The district was actively engaged in a pattern of concealment and deception with regard to Gary Shafer’s conduct.”
Shafer admitted to sexually assaulting at least 30 children aboard Olympia School Buses. He pled guilty in August 2011 to molesting three kindergarten bus riders and is now serving 15 years in prison.
“One bus driver came to the district’s transportation supervisor, Fred Stanley, right after Shafer was arrested with concerns about Shafer’s contact with yet another kindergarten child,” Cochran said. “Stanley did nothing. He failed to report the suspected abuse to the family, he failed to report the suspected abuse to law enforcement, and Fred Stanley failed to follow up in any other way.”
Cochran said that to this day, it appears no one from the district has ever made an attempt to assist or even contact that particular child or her family. “For that matter, the district hasn’t lifted a finger to identify the other 30 girls Shafer said he molested,” Cochran said.
Last year, a Thurston County jury awarded another child molested by Shafer and the child’s mother $1.425 million for the abuse she suffered aboard a school bus. Cochran said that because the jury in the previous case already found that the District negligent in its supervision of Shafer, the current case was only about the amount of damage Shafer inflicted on the victim.
“The judge agreed that the District’s liability had already been determined by a jury. The only thing left was to figure out what was necessary to help this child and her family heal and move forward,” Cochran said.
September 5, 2013
Five months after PCVA filed suit against the South Sound’s largest hospital conglomerate, MultiCare, and its California-based lien collection agency, Hunter Donaldson, MultiCare’s President and Chief Executive Officer has announced her intention to retire next year. According to MultiCare, CEO Diane Cecchettini will step down sometime in the first half of 2014.
In April, PCVA filed suit against MultiCare and Hunter Donaldson for defrauding accident victims by engaging in lien fraud. PCVA’s Darrell Cochran and Tacoma attorney Tom Gallagher brought the lawsuit on behalf of five Pierce County residents along with a request that the suit be granted class action status.
“Every single lien MulitCare filed through Hunter Donaldson is based on a fraudulent notary,” Cochran said. “That violates the law. “
MultiCare, which operates 5 hospitals and dozens of primary and urgent care clinics, is accused of conspiring with California-based Hunter Donaldson to falsely register a non-resident as a notary. That fraudulent notary then signed and filed thousands of illegal medical services liens with the Pierce County Auditor’s office.
Shortly after the suit was filed, MultiCare issued a state to The News Tribune stating, “MultiCare has temporarily suspended the enforcement of all medical liens issued on its behalf by Hunter Donaldson. We will meet with representatives from Hunter Donaldson as soon as possible.”
Despite MultiCare’s representations to the newspaper, Hunter Donaldson continues its efforts to collect money on the invalid and fraudulently created liens.
May 23, 2013
We have reached a tentative settlement in the Christian Brothers bankruptcy. Under the proposed terms, the Christian Brothers and one of its insurers will pay $16.5 million to fund the settlement, and will also transfer ownership of other assets, including property. The settlement would only apply to the Christian Brothers in North America and allows abuse survivors to pursue claims against other entities, including the owners of school where the abuse happened.
The Christian Brothers of Ireland, a Catholic religious order, has agreed to pay $16.5 million to settle the claims of more than 400 survivors of sexual and physical abuse. The order will also transfer ownership of various properties and certain insurance policies that may provide coverage of abuse claims.
In April 2011, two asset-holding corporations of the Christian Brothers, The Christian Brothers of Ireland, Inc., an Illinois corporation, and the Christian Brothers Institute, a New York corporation, filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. According to court documents, the corporations filed for bankruptcy because of pending sexual abuse lawsuits, primarily in Washington state.
Since then, more than 400 men and women filed claims with the bankruptcy court, alleging they were sexually or physically abused by a Christian Brother or at a school run by the Christian Brothers. The religious order has owned or operated schools in the United States since the early 1900s.
Seattle sexual abuse attorney Jason P. Amala, who represents more than 80 abuse survivors in the bankruptcy, believes the settlement is vindication for his clients and others: “For years the Christian Brothers denied any wrongdoing, but this settlement acknowledges their role in decades of children being sexual abused at Catholic schools across the country. It not only begins to provide closure for our clients, but it will help offset the costs to their families and to society as a whole.”
Since approximately 2002, Amala and his law partner, Michael T. Pfau, have settled more than 50 claims against the Christian Brothers and the Seattle Archdiocese on behalf of men who claimed they were sexually abused at Catholic schools in Washington state, including O’Dea High School and Briscoe Memorial School. The total settlements exceeded $25 million. Pfau and Amala were pursuing ten more claims against the Christian Brothers in Washington when the religious order chose to file for bankruptcy protection.
Although the settlement applies to claims against the Christian Brothers of North America, it allows abuse survivors to pursue claims against other institutions that they allege are also responsible for the abuse. For example, more than 50 of the men represented by Pfau and Amala have filed claims in Washington and Illinois against other institutions that they allege are also responsible for the abuse, including the Seattle Archdiocese and the Archdiocese of Chicago. The settlement does not affect those claims, or the rights of other abuse survivors to file similar claims against the same or other entities.
According to Pfau, additional lawsuits may be filed against a number of other entities, including the owners of schools where abuse took place: “In many cases the local diocese or another entity owned the school and collected money from the school. Those entities are often just as liable for the abuse as the Christian Brothers. Many of our current clients intend to file claims against those entities, and I would not be surprised if more people come forward with similar claims.”
In addition to the monetary settlement, the Christian Brothers have also agreed to a number of measures that are designed to protect children from sexual abuse. Pfau says the non-monetary terms were an important part of the settlement: “Our clients want to make sure history does not repeat itself. This settlement will help ensure future children are protected.”
May 13, 2013
PCVA Attorney Jason P. Amala has settled a lawsuit against a Canadian gel fuel manufacturer and others for a total of $5.375 million. Trial in the lawsuit was set to begin today in Marion County Circuit Court in Salem, Oregon.
PCVA’s client, Lillis Larson, was volunteering at her church’s food booth at the Salem Art Fair and Festival in July 2009 when she was burned by a bottle of Ecoflame Warming Gel, a gel fuel product that the church was using to keep food warm. As another volunteer tried to re-fill an Ecoflame can, the Ecoflame bottle of gel that she was using for the refill caught fire and exploded. Witnesses described an explosion that resulted in flaming gel shooting out of the bottle, covering Ms. Larson across her torso and neck. The flames could not be put out with water so volunteers had to use fire extinguishers.
Ms. Larson was life-flighted to a hospital in Portland and spent months recovering in a hospital burn unit and intensive home care. She suffered second and third degree burns on approximately one-third of her body and underwent multiple skin graft surgeries.
The Ecoflame product, which was labeled as “non-explosive,” was marketed as a re-fillable, environmentally friendly alternative to the familiar Sterno brand chafing cans that are used by restaurants and caterers to keep food warm. Members of Ms. Larson’s church testified they switched to Ecoflame from Sterno because of those representations.
Jason represented Ms. Larson with his father, Oregon attorney Carl R. Amala of Harris Wyatt & Amala, LLC. According to Jason and Carl, Ecoflame knew its product was dangerous but put profits over consumer safety: “We discovered evidence that Ecoflame not only believed its product was explosive if exposed to flame, but the company chose not to use a safety cap that would have prevented this type of accident because it knew people would be less likely to buy it. It then chose to market the unsafe product as ‘non-explosive.’ We asserted that this was a classic case of a company intentionally putting profits over consumer safety.”
The $5.375 million settlement is believed to be the largest yet arising from use of a gel fuel product. Last year, nine manufacturers voluntarily recalled some of their gel fuel products at the request of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which had received dozens of complaints from injured consumers. The CPSC is currently drafting new regulations to address gel fuel products, which began gaining popularity in 2008 until news of the voluntary recall.
A number of lawsuits were filed against gel fuel manufacturers, but the largest prior settlement is believed to have been $225,000. In contrast, Ecoflame’s insurers will fund $2 million of the settlement with Ms. Larson. The remaining $3.75 million was paid by insurers for the church.
Ms. Larson, a retired teacher of human development, hopes news of the settlement will prevent other people from being injured. “People need to know that these products are still out there and they are very dangerous, both for the people using them and for innocent bystanders.”
PCVA in the News
May 13, 2013
Jason Amala and his father, Oregon attorney Carl R. Amala of Harris Wyatt & Amala, LLC, represented Ms. Larson in a personal injury suit over an injury caused by an exploding gel fuel product, called Ecoflame. The “refillable,” “non-explosive” gel fuel product shot flaming gel out of the bottle as someone refilled an Ecoflame can, and Ms. Larson suffered second and third degree burns on approximately one-third of her body. Ms. Larson, a retired teacher of human development, hopes news of the settlement will prevent other people from being injured. Nine manufacturers of similar gel fuels have recalled their gel fuel products.