A Woodford County jury, in Zachary Liggett v. El Paso-Gridley Community Unit School District #11, et al., recently awarded a bullied student with autism $250,000 in damages.
The plaintiff, Zachary Liggett, was a 13-year-old student at El Paso-Gridley Junior High School in Gridley, Illinois at the time the bullying occurred. As part of his education, Liggett, who suffers from autism, enrolled in an alternative school located near the junior high school. Liggett commuted to school in a nine-person van driven by bus driver James Roberts. Two other students, 15 and 16 years-old at the time, also rode in the van with Liggett.
From November 2012 to May 2013, Liggett was repeatedly bullied by the two older students. Roberts, who is said to have witnessed the bullying, failed to intervene to stop the bullying and also failed to report the bullying to the school district.
On May 23, 2013, roughly seven months after the bullying first occurred, Liggett’s parents saw cuts and bruises all over Liggett’s body. Liggett’s parents contacted the police immediately thereafter. When questioned by police, Roberts admitted that he witnessed the bullying yet did not report it. Roberts’ statement was verified by surveillance video, which showed the two students beating up Liggett – to which Roberts did not intervene.
As a result of the repeated bullying that Liggett endured for more than half a year, the jury awarded him $10,000 for pain and suffering, $150,000 for emotional distress, and $90,000 for loss of normal life.
Although the two students were not parties in the civil case, one student pleaded guilty to battery, while the other pleaded guilty to assault.
Despite the fact that Liggett never told the school or his parents about the bullying, the fact that he suffered from autism and had a difficult time communicating, coupled with the egregious behavior by the bus driver, likely played a role in the implication of the school district.