In a case handled in part by a Missouri-licensed attorney who also practices in California, a Los Angeles County jury delivered a $45 million verdict to the family of special needs twins who sued over a classroom aide’s repeated use of hand sanitizer on open cuts to “inflict pain and obtain behavioral compliance,” according to the lawsuit.
The jury found that no fewer than 11 officials in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, including the boys’ classroom teacher, principal and two special education administrators, were negligent in the supervision of the aide and failed to report suspected abuse over four months during the 2017-18 school year.
The brothers are now 12 but were 7-year-old second graders at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School at the time. Both have diagnoses on the autism spectrum and limited communication skills, said plaintiff’s attorney Omar Quereshi.
After the initial use of hand sanitizer as punishment, the school employee engaged in “an escalating pattern of physical restraint, physical abuse and intentional battery,” the complaint alleged, before a school bus driver witnessed the abuse and told the boys’ parents.
Aide Galit Gottlieb, who was one of six school officials named as defendants, was also held responsible by the jury for $5 million in damages.
Attorneys for the school district did not respond to a request for comment. After the ruling, the district superintendent issued a statement calling the verdict “not justified by the evidence presented” and noting the district’s plans to continue “working with our legal team to explore options.”
A subsequent statement called for an independent review by an unspecified third party: “This decision sends a clear message that student well-being must always be a priority, and we agree completely with this value proposition; however, the Board of Education feels that the amount awarded is excessive given the facts of the case, so we will be asking for an independent review of the decision.”
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$45 million verdict (out of state)
Breakdown and distribution: $15 million in future economic, $5 million in past economic and $5 million in future economic from school district (all for plaintiff CR); $1 million each in future economic, past non-economic and future non-economic against defendant Gottlieb (for CR); $10 million in future economic, $2.5 million in past non-economic and $2.5 million in future non-economic from school district (plaintiff CN); $1 million in future economic, $500,000 in past non-economic and $500,000 in future non-economic against defendant Gottlieb
Last Pretrial Demand: $7,860,000
Last Pretrial Offer: $250,000 to C.R., $0 to C.N.
Plaintiffs’ Experts: Helena Huckabee, Englewood, Colorado (neuropsychology); Jennifer Craigmyle, Rancho Cucamonga, California (life care planner)
Defendants’ Experts: Dr. Praveen Kambam, Los Angeles (psychiatry); Mary Jesko, San Diego (life care planner)
Venue: Los Angeles Superior Court, California
Case Number/Date: 19STCV05418/Oct. 20, 2022
Insurer: Alliance of Schools for Cooperative Insurance Programs (for school district)
Judge: Richard Fruin Jr.
Caption: C.R. and C.N. v. Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and Galit Gottlieb
Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Omar Qureshi, Qureshi Law, Los Angeles; David German; Vanaman German, Sherman Oaks, California
Defendants’ Attorneys: Marlon Wadlington, Scott Danforth and Kristin Myers, Atkinson, Andelson, Loya & Ruud, Cerritos, California