The Record (Stockton): Lodi school district pays cost of negligence

March 13, 2013 

Excerpted from Wednesday's The Record (Stockton).

It is a sad way for Lodi Unified to learn a harsh lesson. The district last week reached a $4.75 million settlement with the family of a special-needs student who when she was 8 was molested on a school bus about 2½ years ago. The molester: the bus driver. The crime was all caught on the bus videotape system.

Her father, identified as Angel M.C., expressed grief throughout the process that he couldn't protect his child. It's an emotional response any parent can understand. But the jury in the civil trial understood that one way to make sure Lodi Unified protects children in its charge is to hit the district in the pocketbook (not to mention a deservedly horrible lashing in the court of public opinion). The settlement will cost the district its $50,000 insurance deductible.

In October, lawyers for the family and the district reached a $4.2 million agreement, but the district's insurance carrier, a self-insurance joint powers agreement among 330 school districts, said no, opting for a jury trial. Dumb move. They ended up with a jury that unanimously found Lodi Unified negligent and voted 11-1 to put 90 percent of the blame on the district. The other 10 percent accrued to bus driver Richard Evans, 61, who pleaded guilty in 2011 to enough felony charges to put him in prison for 25 years. Evans likely won't pay a cent. He's filed for bankruptcy.

After that verdict, attorneys for both sides huddled again and came up with the $4.75 million figure. Even after deductibles and attorney fees are subtracted, the settlement should be enough money to see that the abused child gets the care and treatment she needs. And enough to send a startlingly clear message to Lodi Unified officials to do background checks on their employees.

Had they checked, they would have found he'd been convicted of having sex with a prostitute in his potato chip delivery van in 2000, someone no school district should have ever hired as a bus driver.

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