Monday, December 7, 2015

Long Branch school district secretly pays $347,500 to settle lawsuits by 7 years olds were wrapped in tape by school janitors.

I'm trying to develop a complete list of settlements that arose out of lawsuits filed by the parents of four second-grade boys at the Gregory Elementary School in Long Branch who claimed that school janitors wrapped them with tape in a school restroom.

There are conflicting stories regarding the janitors' motivations. The  parents' lawyers in the two lawsuits (here and here) say the incidents were"outrageous," "shocking" and part of a "sick desire" while media reports (here and here) quote school officials as saying that the students' movement was never restricted and that it was just "a joke gone bad."

Whatever happened, I have secured three settlement agreements showing that the parents settled for a total of $347,500.  Due to the redactions applied to the settlements, I am having trouble determining whether I have all the settlements that arose out of the cases.  This is what I do know:
  • The first settlement shows an unidentified student receiving a $108,746.93 payment on his 25th birthday on July 22, 2029.  The $108,746.93 has a present value of $73,103.68 which, together with attorney fees of $24,367.89 and litigation expenses of $7,528.43 makes the settlement value $105,000.
  • The second settlement shows an unidentified student receiving a $108,631.00 payment on his 25th birthday on July 11, 2029.  The $108,631.00 has a present value of $73,103.68 which, together with attorney fees of $24,367.89 and litigation expenses of $7,528.43 makes the settlement value $105,000.
  • The third settlement shows an unidentified student receiving a $143,894.87 payment on his 25th birthday on July 19, 2029.  The $143,894.87 has a present value of $96,297.63 which, together with attorney fees of $32,099.20 and litigation expenses of $9,103.17 makes the settlement value $137,500.
So, in total, the students received present value payments of $242,504.99 while the law firm of Tacopina & Segal P.C got $80,834.98 in fees and $24,160.03 in expenses.

The settlement agreements each contain a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of the students' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the  payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lakewood or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Long Branch or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the students and their lawyers $347,500 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.