Saturday, December 30, 2017

Evesham school board confidentially paid out $85,000 to settle lawsuit filed by disabled preschool student who said she was physically assaulted by her teacher.

On December 11, 2017, Burlington County Superior Court Judge Martin A. Herman approved a settlement under which the Evesham Board of Education (Burlington County) agreed to pay $85,000 to a disabled preschool student who was allegedly forcibly shaken by a teacher who claimed that the child "uses her disease as an excuse and chooses to be stubborn."

In her suit, the then three-year-old, identified only by her initials O.O, claimed that Cheryl Cassidy, her preschool teacher, "physically grabbed" her and "forcefully shook [her] back and forth" on November 12, 2012 when the child refused to speak.  According to the lawsuit, O.O. suffers from Type 1 Diabetes and "select muteness" which causes her to be "very quiet around most people outside of her immediate family." 

Cassidy also allegedly insisted on potty-training O.O. because she "uses the bathroom too often."  O.O's mother said that she explained to Cassidy that diabetes caused O.O's body to produce an abnormal amount of urine to excrete glucose in response to high blood glucose levels.  According to the lawsuit, Cassidy continued to potty-train O.O. despite this explanation.

O.O.'s mother alleged that she made contact with Sandy Student who was then the President of the Evesham Township Board of Education.  According to the lawsuit President Student asked the mother if she understood the allegations that she was making and told her "You have no proof."

O.O.'s mother reportedly removed O.O. from the school because she "was in fear of leaving her daughter alone with" Cassidy.

Of the $85,000 settlement, $22,663 went to O.O's lawyers and $62,337.00 was placed with the Burlington County Surrogate.

The case is captioned O.O a minor v. Evesham Township Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. BUR-L-412-16 and O.O's attorney was R. Armen McOmber of Red Bank. Case documents are on-line here.

The General Release contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement's terms to others, including the media.  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. Also, imposing a confidentiality agreement in this case makes little sense because Judge Herman's December 11, 2017 Order is a public filing.

None of O.O's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. All that is known for sure is that the Evesham school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the girl $85,000 than take the matter 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.