Just this month, a settlement was reached in the civil lawsuit between San Diego Unified School District and a former student of the county. The former student, now 19, received more than $1.25 million in damages for being forced to urinate in a bucket in a classroom after being denied access to the restroom.
High school is a time for exploring one’s self, learning life skills, and developing goals for future education and career. Or at least it should be. For one such girl, this was not the case.
It all began in 2012, when a 14-year-old San Diego student was not allowed to go to the restroom. The girl’s school had just instated a 25-minute homeroom class, and the girl’s teacher, Gonja Wolf, thought that students were not allowed to use the restroom during this short period.
The teacher’s response was to allow the student to urinate into a bucket in the classroom’s supply room. With no other options, the girl did just that. Following her teacher’s order, she emptied the contents into an unused sink in the classroom and returned the bucket to the supply room.
As is expected given the circumstances and setting, word soon spread throughout the student body and eventually reached administrators of the school.
The teacher was at-once placed on administrative leave and removed from campus. Before the incident, Wolf was a well-liked art teacher with no past record of discipline.
Although faculty at the school mentioned that restroom breaks would disrupt the new short homeroom classes, there was no explicit policy against students leaving to go. The teacher mistakenly interpreted talks about the potential disruption as a no-break policy. She believed that allowing a student to urinate into a bucket in the privacy of a supply room was the solution to the dilemma.
The former student claims she was teased by her classmates. She became a target for teenage bullies who preyed on her embarrassment. Even media outlets began exposing the story across many platforms, and television crews showed up at the victim’s home seeking an interview.
With the added weight of widespread media coverage, the girl was forced to transfer to two others schools before ending up at a charter school, where she eventually obtained her high school diploma. Throughout the experience, the girl experienced humiliation in front of her peers and community, leading to her multiple attempted suicides.
Following the event, the school’s administration apologized to the girl and clarified to the school’s staff that students should not be prohibited from leaving class to use the restroom. But it was then too late; the damages were done.
The girl’s family initially filed a claim against her teacher and the San Diego Unified School District for $10,000 in damages, $25,000 in medical and psychological expenses, and the costs of moving to a private school. After nearly five years, a jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff. The traumatized student received a settlement of $1.25 million dollars and $41,000 to cover past and current medical expenses.
The San Diego Unified School District is now contemplating filing appeal proceedings in response to the judgment settlement. The girl’s teacher never returned to her school of employment after being placed on administrative leave.
In this case, the unnamed former student received $1.25 million for damages and $41,000 for past and ongoing medical expenses. Some types of she was compensated for include suffering caused by the stress of the event, emotional distress that lead to her suicide attempts, and the costs of moving between schools.
Steps in a lawsuit against a school or school district
You may have the basis for a lawsuit against a school or school district if your son or daughter was victimized in any of these ways:
- Discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, disability, or other protected class
- Violence or bullying when the school’s failure to prevent it was a cause
- Injuries that are caused by an employee of the school
- Unreasonable or excessive punishments by school officials
- Harassment or sexual abuse by a staff member
Although some states bar lawsuits being raised against public schools on the principle of governmental or sovereign immunity, the state of Florida does not. Florida Statutes provide for a limited waiver of sovereign immunity, allowing citizens to bring lawsuits against the state and its agencies, which would include a publicly funded school.
Florida requires that pre-suit notifications be provided when an individual is considering a lawsuit against a public agency. Included in the filing would be information about the type of claim considered, the date of the incident, and damages sought.
The first step in a formal lawsuit is the filing of a complaint with a court of proper jurisdiction. The complaint states the legal grounds on which the suit is filed and names violations that were made by the party being sued. Damages and their respective amounts would be itemized on the complaint and filed on record.
In keeping with due process owed to the sued party, a summons would be provided to them notifying them of the lawsuit. The summons would typically have a deadline for a response to the suing party’s complaints, giving the defending party the opportunity to admit or deny to statements and allegations made.
Under certain circumstances, the case may require or arbitration to settle the lawsuit without a judge. In this type of proceeding, the parties would attempt to resolve their differences under the guidance of an administrative power. If no relief can be agreed upon, the case may go on to a court hearing.
During this step of the lawsuit, evidence would be gathered against the party being sued to be presented at a trial. This may include witness statements or testimony, official filed reports, videos, medical records or testimony, and other materials that support the claimant’s position.
Depending on the issue at hand, a decision would be decided by a court or jury. Although the proceedings can be broken down into relatively few steps, the overall process can take much time to resolve. In the above case, the proceedings took nearly five years!
That’s why it’s important to immediately discuss your situation with an experienced attorney to determine if you have the basis for a lawsuit.
At Dolman Law Group, we stand up against organizations and institutions that violate the rights of individuals. For a complimentary case evaluation, email us through our page or call us at (727)853-6275.
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