$4.5 million verdict for minors abused by school teacher. San Diego County.

Summary

Continued parental concerns over a teacher's attention to female students went unanswered by authorities at an elementary school in Carlsbad. School district found liable by jury.

The Case

  • Case Name: Emma & Jaiden v. Carlsbad Unified School District
  • Court and Case Number: San Diego County (North County: Vista); Case No. 37-2010-60474-CU-PO-NC
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Sunday, June 17, 2012
  • Date Action was Filed: Tuesday, August 31, 2010
  • Type of Action: Negligence, Sexual Abuse
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Timothy Casserly
  • Plaintiffs:
    Emma
    Jaiden
  • Defendants:
    Carlsbad Unified School District
    Raymond Firth
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $4,500,000
  • Net Verdict or Award: $4,500,000
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: Carlsbad Unified: 40% at fault; Raymond Firth: 60% at fault
  • Economic Damages:

    $200,000 each plaintiff

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Emma: $2,500,000;   Jaiden: $1,600,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 5 weeks
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 3 days
  • Jury Polls: 12-0 liability; 10-2 damages
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: N/A

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:
    Taylor & Ring by David M. Ring and Louanne Masry, Los Angeles
  • Attorney for the Defendant:
    Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz by Daniel Shinoff and Paul Carelli, San Diego (for CUSD)
    Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP by Marilyn Moriarty, San Diego (for Raymond Firth)

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Experts:
    Dr. Clark Clipson, psychologist, San Diego
  • Defendant's Medical Experts:
    Dr. Glenn Lipson, psychologist, San Diego
  • Plaintiff's Technical Experts:
    None
  • Defendant's Technical Experts:
    Dave Cowles, school liability, Vista

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Raymond Firth was a teacher employed by Carlsbad Unified School District from 1999 to 2007. He taught 3rd grade.

    In Fall 2006, the assistant principal walked into Firth's classroom during recess and found Firth with a girl on his lap. After plaintiff Jaiden reported the abuse in Fall 2007, an investigation ensued, but Firth was not immediately charged with any crime due to lack of evidence. He was placed on administrative leave by the school district.

    After another victim came forward in 2008, Firth was criminally charged. Then plaintiff Emma came forward in 2009 and reported that she, too, had been a victim. Firth eventually plead guilty and was sentenced to prison. Firth groped Jaiden one time outside of her clothing. Firth molested Emma many times.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That Firth molested Emma during school year 2006-2007 when she was a student in his class. That Firth molested Jaiden in Fall 2007 when she was a student in his class, and that Jaiden immediately reported the abuse.

    That Between 2001 and 2007 a few parents complained to the school's principal about Firth's interactions with girls. That Firth frequently had his female students sit on his lap during class. ThatHe was often in the classroom with one or just a few girls before school or during recess or lunch. That at least one parent was uncomfortable with this and told the principal.

    That the school district was negligent in its supervision of its teacher. The school's principal received several complaints over the years about Firth's improper interactions with girls (sitting on his lap, alone in the classroom, excessive physical contact), yet did little or nothing to end the misconduct. In Fall 2006 the assistant principal observed Firth with a girl on his lap and reported that to the principal, but the principal again did little or nothing in response. Then, a parent reported similar misconduct by Firth to another teacher, who failed to report it to the principal. The school district failed to take adequate action to end the improper behavior by Firth.

    Plaintiffs contended that their government tort claims were excused from being late because the school district caused the parents to delay in presenting the claims. Plaintiffs contended that they suffered severe emotional distress and PTSD as a result of the molestations.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant school district contended that it had not received any complaints about Firth. The principal spoke to Firth about the importance of keeping proper physical boundaries with students each time the issue was raised and Firth agreed to do so. At no time did the principal or anyone else from the school suspect anything improper was taking place. Firth was a well-liked teacher and had satisfactory performance reviews. The school was not negligent as it properly supervised its teachers and had no way of knowing or even suspecting that Firth was molesting girls.

    Defendant school district also contended that each plaintiff filed a late government tort claim and that each claim was therefore time-barred. The school district contended that plaintiffs' emotional distress was caused, in part, by their parents' divorces. Finally, the school district contended that Firth was 100% responsible for any of the plaintiff's damages, as Firth committed criminal acts.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Severe emotional distress; post traumatic stress disorder; depression

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: None
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: Future therapy costs
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: None
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: None

Additional Notes

Additional note: Defense expert, Dave Cowles, was the Superintendant of neighboring Vista Unified School District from 1998 to 2006.

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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