California School District Agrees to $27M Settlement After Bullying Death of 13-Year-Old
A California school district has agreed to a $27 million settlement with the family of a boy who was bullied to death in 2019.
Lawyers representing the legal guardians of 13-year-old Diego Stolz announced the settlement with the Moreno Valley Unified School District last Wednesday. The family (Diego's legal guardians) initially filed their wrongful death lawsuit seeking damages of $100 million for the teen’s untimely death.
Under California Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60, a wrongfully killed individual's surviving family members, including a surviving spouse, domestic partner, or children of the decedent, can bring a claim within two years after the wrongful death. Legal guardians are also eligible to file civil lawsuits in cases where a minor's harm may have resulted from wrongful or negligent actions, as long as the child's biological parents are no longer alive.
The young teen was a student at Landmark Middle School, where his family says he suffered bullying that went unpunished. On September 16, 2019, the family shared in their lawsuit that their son was assaulted by two 14-year-old male students. One of the classmates punched Diego in the face, while another sucker punched the teen from the side. The impact caused Diego to fall and hit his head on a concrete pillar, and the teens continued to punch him, causing him to suffer a fatal brain injury. The teen never regained consciousness and died from his injury nine days later.
Diego’s family filed their wrongful death lawsuit against the school in 2020. They accuse school administrators of “completely disregarding” warnings that Diego was being bullied and doing “nothing to stop the bullying.” The lawsuit also accused the school district and its employees of “blatantly ignoring red flags that could have saved Diego’s life.”
The lawsuit details that during his seventh-grade year, Diego was “repeatedly bullied, both verbally and physically,” by the two boys, who were identified as J.D. and M.E.
On September 12, 2019, when Diego was in the eighth grade, he was punched by the boys, prompting him to seek the guidance of a science teacher. The teacher reported the bullying to school administrators, who failed to address the bullying, nor did they check the security camera that caught the assault in action.
The next day, Diego and an adult family member of his legal guardians met with school administrators, where they recounted the events with the two boys. Diego and his legal guardians were told the two boys would be suspended and would receive a schedule change. However, after returning to school on Monday, the bullies were still in school. The assault that took his life occurred days later.
In announcing the settlement, attorneys for the family shared a statement with CNN that read in part, “The family will forever be heartbroken by the death of Diego, but they hope this case brings about change in school districts across the country.”
Lead counsel Dave Ring shared, “Schools need to realize that bullying can never be tolerated and that any complaints of bullying and assault must be taken seriously. Diego’s death was preventable if this school had simply prioritized an anti-bullying policy.”
In response to the settlement, Michael Marlatt, the school district's lawyer, shared that the settlement amount was a “fair and reasonable amount,” adding, “We recognized that this was a tragic case with challenging legal issues.”
The two boys involved in the assault pled guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter. The boys were sentenced to probation and were released to the custody of their parents in 2021 after spending 47 days in juvenile custody.
The assault that led to Diego’s life-ending injuries was captured on school surveillance video and shows his bullies ambushing him in the brutal assault.
The family's attorneys argued that had the school had anti-bullying policies in place, Diego’s death could have been prevented.
The $27 million settlement is believed to be the largest school bullying settlement in U.S. history. The administrators who were in charge at the time of Diego's assault have since been removed from their positions.
From David M. Ring's website, www.taylorring.com:
"Because of what happened to Diego, the California Assembly passed Bill 2445 in September 2020, which clarified that legal guardians do have standing to bring a lawsuit in civil claims where a minor’s may have stemmed from a wrongful or negligent act, provided the child’s natural parents are deceased. Diego’s parents passed away years ago, and Juana and Felipe raised him since he was a baby. He was their son, and they could do nothing to ensure that this terrible fate would not befall other families. AB 2445 made sure that folks like the Salcedos could seek justice in the future."