The family of Sawyer Rosenstein, a now paralyzed victim of bullying, settled their case against the New Jersey school district for $4.2 million this week, reports The Associated Press. Rosenstein, now 18, was only 12 when he lost the ability to walk. A bully punched him in the abdomen, causing a blood clot that lodged in his spine and paralyzed him from the waist down. The injury, while incredibly rare, followed from the punch, which was proceeded by months of bullying from the other child.
The theory behind the lawsuit was likely based on negligence. The school had a duty to provide a safe environment for the children. The bully had a history of violence, including punching another student in the face while riding the school bus a year earlier. The school kept no record of that incident, nor others.
In addition to a duty, the family would have had to prove breach of that duty, which was evident from their failure to prevent what was foreseeable bullying.
Three months before the punch that put Rosenstein in a wheelchair, the school was notified via email by Rosenstein that the bullying had gotten worse and was escalating. According to reports, they did nothing.
The family also would have had to prove causation, both "but for" causation and proximate causation. The "but for" element is easy to show: but for the school's failure to step in sooner and suspend the bully or send him to counseling, this incident likely would have not happened.
Proximate cause, on the other hand, is trickier. The family would have to prove that what happened was reasonably foreseeable as a consequence of their actions. Now, the school might argue that there was no way they could foresee that a 12-year-old bully could punch someone in a way to cause a blood clot which would then paralyze the other child.
The counter argument is that the school should have foreseen that ignoring the bully would result in him hurting someone. The extent of the injury, while resulting from a rare complication, was still a natural consequence of the school's failure.
Had the boy been punched, stumbled into the street, and a car swerved to avoid hitting him, striking a prized show dog in the process, then the school would not have been liable for the dog. That situation lacks proximate cause.
The final element for negligence is that an injury resulted, which is obvious here.
It seems as though the family of Sawyer Rosenstein would have had a pretty strong case. The insurance carrier must have agreed because they reportedly pushed for the $4.2 million settlement over the objections of the school district, which still denies fault.
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