Posted on Mar 18, 2006
Jury awards $47,900 to girl for sexual assault on school bus in 2002
By ADRIAN ANGELETTE
Advocate staff writer
Published: Mar 18, 2006
A jury has awarded $47,900 to a young girl who claimed she was sexually assaulted by an older student on a school bus in May 2002.
The girl’s attorney, David Bateman, said he is pleased that the jury held the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board accountable for the actions of a bus driver who was supposed to be supervising the children. But, Bateman said he thinks the damage award for the girl’s mental anguish and psychological trauma is much too low.
The jury in its verdict late Thursday awarded the girl $2,790 for past counseling, $25,000 for future medical treatment and counseling, and $20,000 for the psychological injuries.
“The jury award for past and future medical and counseling is fair, but the mental anguish and psychological component is well below what is normally given in this type of case,” Bateman said.
The attorney said he will ask state District Judge Timothy Kelley, who presided over the trial, to review the jury verdict and increase the amount for mental anguish and psychological damages.
The girl, who was 8 years old at the time, was a student at J.K. Haynes Elementary on East Boulevard. She rode the school bus to a transfer point at Independence Park.
While on the bus and waiting for another bus to arrive that would take her home, the third-grade student was sexually assaulted by a 12-year-old boy.
Bateman said the boy admitted to assaulting the girl, but there was a dispute about whether there was adequate supervision. The girl did not immediately report the boy’s actions, and officials learned of the incident only after a rumor about the assault began to circulate at school, Bateman said.
During the trial, the school bus driver admitted that she would leave the bus at times to talk with other bus drivers at the Independence Park transfer point, Bateman said. That act was in violation of a School Board policy which required bus drivers to supervise the children on their buses.
But, School Board attorney Doug Foster said there was conflicting testimony during the trial about the level of supervision, and the girl’s therapist testified that a fight on the bus could have provided the opportunity for the sexual assault.
During an interview with the therapist, the girl said the bus driver stopped a fight on the bus and left to find a supervisor to help her handle the situation. It was while the bus driver was off the bus that the sexual assault took place, Foster said.
“We certainly don’t want to make light of what happened to the young girl, but there is only so much that one person can do,” Foster said. “I think the jury recognized that the bus driver was doing her duty and there was only so much she could do.”
Foster said he thinks the jury award is fair and doubts the School Board would appeal.
Bateman said school officials admitted there have been more than 1,000 complaints — mostly about fighting — at the transfer point. School officials have asked Sheriff’s Office deputies to patrol to prevent problems from occurring in the future.