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School District in California Pays $27 Million to Resolve Wrongful Death Claim, Student Beaten to Death on Campus

According to a report from ABC News, a school district in Southern California will pay $27 million to settle a wrongful death claim brought by a family whose child was killed by another student while on school premises. 13-year-old Diego Stolz was suckerpunched by another student at Landmark Middle School in Moreno Valley in the fall of 2019. In this article, our Stockton wrongful death attorneys explains what we know about this case and highlights the legal issues that arise in wrongful death claims in California. 

A California Middle School Student Was Killed After Being Assaulted By Two Classmates

Tragically, a 13-year-old was attacked by two classmates at the Landmark Middle School in Moreno Valley. 13-year-old Diego Stolz tragically passed away from injuries sustained during the brutal assault. The victim was initially hit from behind. The sucker punch caused him to hit his head on a pillar. Subsequently, he was attacked further by the two other students. The incident—which was caught on video and made national news—led to the boy’s death nine days later due to the severity of the traumatic brain injury (TBI). Notably, the two attackers—who were both 14-years-old at the time of the assault—were sentenced to juvenile detention and mental health counseling. 

A Wrongful Death Claim Was Filed Against the School District, Settlement Reached

The Moreno Valley Unified School District—which covers more than 31,000 students—has agreed to a $27 million settlement to resolve a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of the victim. A legal representative for the family argued that this school-based attack could have been prevented if the district had developed and implemented a proper anti-bullying policy, which many other school districts in the state have already done. Notably, the wrongful death complaint filed by the family emphasized that young Diego had complained about bullying to the assistant principal of the school relatively shortly before the deadly assault happened. 

An Overview of Wrongful Death Claims in California

Wrongful death claims are complicated. For grieving families, navigating the aftermath of a deadly incident can be especially harrowing. These cases are highly technical and professional representation from a qualified Stockton wrongful death lawyer is a must. Here are some key points to know about wrongful death laws in California: 

  • Eligibility to File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit: Not everyone is eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California. The law primarily allows the decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, surviving children, or surviving parents to file the claim. If there are no surviving individuals in the deceased person’s line of descent, then others might be eligible to take legal action. If a minor is killed due to negligence, their parents almost invariably have the primary right to bring the wrongful death claim. 
  • Wrongful Death Liability is Based on Fault: For a wrongful death claim to be successful in California, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant was at fault. The basis for liability could be negligence, recklessness, or intentional wrongdoing. For instance, if a person dies due to medical malpractice, the medical practitioner might be held liable if they failed to provide the standard of care. It is important to emphasize that schools—and other parties entrusted with the care of children and teenagers—can be held liable for negligence, 
  • Economic, Non-Economic, and Punitive Damages May Be Sought: Damages in wrongful death claims can be broadly classified into three categories: 1) Economic Damages: Quantifiable financial losses that include medical bills, funeral expenses, and lost wages, 2) Non-Economic Damages: These relate to the more intangible losses that survivors face, such as the loss of love, companionship, moral support, and guidance, 3) Punitive Damages: Unlike the above damages that aim to compensate, punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer and deter future misconduct. 
  • Two-Year Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations: Time is of the essence when filing a wrongful death claim in California. The state mandates a two-year statute of limitations, starting from the date of the deceased’s death. If the lawsuit is not filed within this period, the right to seek compensation might be forever lost. Exceptions exist, like when the cause of death is discovered later, but these are rare. However, some exceptions exist in the other direction as well. There are more strict deadlines to file a wrongful death claim against a government entity, including a public school district. 
  • Survival Action Claim May Be Filed If Victim Survived Initial Incident: In cases where the victim did not die immediately but survived the initial incident, only to pass away later due to their injuries, another type of claim called a survival action can be filed. A survival action claim allows the estate of the deceased to recover damages for the pain, suffering, and other losses the victim faced from the time of the incident until their passing.

Special Legal Procedures Apply When Suing a Public School for Wrongful Death in California

Suing a public school in California for wrongful death is not a straightforward process. Special legal procedures apply because public schools, as entities of the state, enjoy a certain level of immunity from lawsuits under the doctrine of “sovereign immunity”. To bring a lawsuit against a public school, plaintiffs must first file a claim with the appropriate governmental entity within six months of the incident. 

Only if this claim is denied can a lawsuit be pursued in court. Even then, there are specific nuances to consider, such as caps on certain damages. If your family is considering suing a school district or other public entity for a wrongful death, it is imperative that you have an experienced attorney on your side every step of the way. 

Contact Our Stockton Wrongful Death Lawyers for Immediate Help

At Redkey Gordon Law Corp, our Stockton wrongful death attorney is a compassionate, experienced advocate for grieving families. If your child or other loved one was killed due to negligence, we are here to fight for justice for your family. Contact us today for your free, fully confidential initial consultation. From our Stockton law office, we handle wrongful death claims throughout California.