Last week, an appeals court in New Jersey held that a lawsuit against a Camden school district can proceed to trial. The case was featured in the New Jersey Law Journal. Laffey, Bucci & Kent attorney Sam Reich, who is representing the plaintiffs, was quoted in the article. See www.law.com/njlawjournal, Claims That School Failed to Accommodate Abused Student Can Go Forward, Court Says (“An appeals court has ruled that a former high school student can sue the district and its officials for allegedly failing to insulate her from a schoolmate whose father stalked and sexually abused her.”).
Related: Philadelphia Private School Teacher Sentenced in Criminal Child Molestation Case in New Jersey (Feb. 28, 2017)
The lawsuit involves claims that a Camden, NJ high school caused harm to a freshman student who was sexually abused by her friend’s father. The abuse occurred the year prior to starting high school. The perpetrator was convicted of the abuse. In addition, the judge in the criminal case issued a restraining order against the father after he repeatedly drove by the victim’s house, even after being arrested for the crimes.
The perpetrator’s daughter was in the same grade as the victim, and high school officials knew about the criminal case. During a meeting at the start of the school year, high school officials met with the victim’s mother to discuss the situation.
The case is based on the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, which holds public entities, like schools, liable for negligence or willful conduct resulting in an accident or injury. The lawsuit alleges that despite knowing about the criminal case and the restraining order, school officials failed to take reasonable actions to protect the victim and instead made the situation much worse. The victim and the perpetrator’s daughter were placed in a class together and had lockers near each other. During high school, the girl was bullied by the daughter and others, and a physical fight occurred resulting in the suspension of both girls. The lawsuit alleges that as a result of the school’s actions, the girl suffered additional anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, etc. Essentially, the high school’s conduct aggravated the emotional injuries caused by the sexual abuse.
The trial court granted the school’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the evidence did not support the legal requirements of the Tort Claims Act, specifically, that plaintiff had suffered a permanent injury or that the school officials had engaged in willful misconduct. The appeals court disagreed and reversed the trial court. The case will now continue on the trial docket.
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