A Westchester County jury has awarded $28 million to a former Mount Vernon, New York, student who endured physical assaults from other students and in one incident was taken off campus and sexually assaulted when she was supposed to be on a bus for special-education students.
According to Jordan Merson of Merson Law, who represented the plaintiff, the award is the largest handed up by a jury in a sexual and physical assault case in New York state history.
The plaintiff says a fellow student at Mount Vernon High School sexually assaulted her at his home in December 2011 while giving her a ride home from school.
The victim was 13 years old at the time of the sexual assault and her cognitive abilities were at a first-grade level, Merson said.
Then, in March 2012, the plaintiff was brutally beaten in a locker room by three female students, an attack that caused her to suffer a traumatic brain injury and a concussion.
Following a trial lasting about three weeks, a jury of five women and one man found that the victim had been bullied and that the Mount Vernon school district was negligent in both the sexual assault and the locker room beating. The jury assigned 99 percent of the fault to the school district and 1 percent of the fault to Nyree Norman, one of the three students involved in the locker room beating.
The jury award broke down to $8 million for past pain and suffering and $20 million for future pain and suffering. Merson said his client has lasting psychological scars from the attacks.
“She will be living with this for the rest of her life,” Merson said.
Richard Oleson, a partner at O’Connor McGuinness Conte Doyle Oleson Watson & Loftus, and Kenneth Haldenstein, an associate with the firm, represented the school district. They did not respond to requests for comment.
In addition to Merson, the plaintiff and her family were represented by Andrew Buzin of Buzin Law. Merson said that he and Buzin were able to win over the jury by highlighting the school district’s negligence in the case.
They called as their first witness the director of the school’s special education program when the attacks occurred, who testified that the plaintiff was not on a bus for special-education students when she should have been.
Additionally, the locker room attack occurred a few days after an off-campus altercation with the three assailants. Following the off-campus incident, the plaintiff’s relatives complained to school officials and the special education director told subordinates to keep close watch.
“This wasn’t just one error—this was many, many many errors,” Merson said. “The evidence was overwhelming.”