A lawsuit against The Scranton School for Deaf and Hard of Hearing filed by parents who alleged their daughter had been repeatedly sexually assaulted by a classmate has settled in the middle of trial.
The terms of the settlement, reached Monday night, are confidential. The case was in its second week of trial. The family’s attorney, John Elliott of Elliott Greenleaf, declined to comment beyond confirming the case was resolved.
The lawsuit filed in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas alleged that for six months in 2009 to 2010 the school failed to protect the then 8-year-old girl, identified as S.C. in the case, from another 13-year-old female student who sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions, also alleging that the school tried to cover up the abuse. The Legal does not name victims of abuse.
According to court documents, the victim’s mother took her daughter to the emergency room after noticing rectal bleeding. She subsequently reported child abuse to the authorities.
However, the lawsuit also claimed, the school never checked its records on the 13-year-old, referred to as Jane Doe in court papers, to see if there was a pattern of misconduct after the first complaint of inappropriate touching was made, and ultimately put S.C. back in the same dormitory room with her alleged abuser.
“These sexual—repeated sexual assaults triggered a tragic chain of events that have severely impaired [S.C.] socially, educationally and emotionally,” Elliott told the jury in his opening remarks, according to a trial transcript. “She became fearful of others and fearful of living in a dormitory. And she lost the cultural home that her parents believed was the best vehicle for her to achieve human potential and nourish her human dignity.”
Anne Schmidt Frankel of Burns White represents the Scranton School and declined to comment.
Attorneys for the school argued in court papers that it couldn’t be labeled negligent for what happened to S.C. because there was no reason to suspect child abuse. They also claimed the child’s injuries were not severe and that her accusations were coaxed out of her by “leading and inappropriate questioning” from a doctor.
The school’s court papers said the police issued an affidavit of probable cause before the investigation was complete and without interviewing Doe. Additionally, no charges of failure to report abuse were filed against school officials by police.
The defendants noted that the first instance of alleged abuse happened in a girls’ bathroom and lasted less than a minute.
“The presence of two girls in the bathroom for a minute or less, fully clothed, even when one alleges a touching, did not not lead to a reasonable cause to suspect child abuse for those investigating,” the school’s court papers said.
S.C.’s family sought compensatory and punitive damages against the school and its management entity, the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.