A Los Angeles County jury has awarded a record 23 million dollars in damages to a child who was molested by his fifth grade teacher. The primary defendant in the case, the Los Angeles Unified School District, will be required to pay 6.9 million dollars, which represents 30% of the total verdict.
The child, known in court filings as Walter "Matt" Doe, had accused Forrest Stobbe, his fifth grade teacher, of molesting him inside the classroom 15 to 20 times between 2008 and 2009. The abuse was reported in 2010, and Stobbe was arrested shortly after. In 2011, Stobbe pled no contest to two counts of a lewd act on a child and to the sexual abuse of a child younger than 14 and was subsequently sentenced to 16 years in prison, where he is currently serving that time.
The lawsuit alleged that the LAUSD failed to adequately protect Walter "Matt" Doe and failed to adequately supervise a teacher that they had reason to know could commit such crimes. The Plaintiff, who was ten years old at the time, was attending Queen Anne Elementary School in the Mid-Wilshire area. The LAUSD had recieved complaints about Stobbe's behavior in the past, but had failed to take any action. At the outset of litigation, LAUSD initially offered $25,000 to settle the case.
The jury verdict comes at a particularly vulnerable time for the LAUSD, as the District works to settle the nearly 200 claims of sexual molestation steming from the recent discovery that Mark Berndt, a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School, had been systematically molesting children in his classroom. Berndt is currently awaiting trial. Claims that the LAUSD has been acting negligently in its hiring and retention of teachers were given additional credibility earlier this month, when a state audit found that LAUSD had failed to timely report allegations of teacher misconduct, as was required by state law.