Wilmer J. Harris of Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes, LLP Announces Jury Verdict for Child Molestation Resulting from Group Home Negligence

May 15, 2017, Burbank, CA - Today, employment and civil rights attorney Wilmer Harris announced a jury verdict won on May 12 in Los Angeles County Superior Court, North Central District, Burbank (Hon. William D. Stewart), on behalf of a child victim of sexual assault during his residency at Five Acres Residential Group Home in Altadena, California. The trial lasted two months and included testimony from over 30 witnesses.

Plaintiff brought suit against Five Acres on May 2, 2014, alleging eight causes of action arising out of four sexual assaults he suffered at the hands of an older and larger Five Acres resident. The perpetrator had a history of sexually predatory conduct, which should have disqualified him for placement at the facility. Nonetheless, Five Acres not only allowed the perpetrator into the group home but also failed to supervise him adequately.

"Group homes must place the safety of these vulnerable children above all else," said Harris, applauding the jury's decision. "Tragically, Five Acres failed my client and allowed him to be victimized on multiple occasions."

Minor Plaintiff gave heart-wrenching testimony detailing the abuses he suffered at Five Acres. Attempts to report the incidents were ignored. There were no independent witnesses to the assaults. Five Acres denied that the incidents occurred, and claimed that there was no forensic or medical evidence to support the allegations. Five Acres argued that it did not become aware of the attacks on Plaintiff until a year after they took place. Five Acres further claimed that it complied with the regulatory requirements for child-to-staff ratios and that its supervision structure exceeded the standard in the industry. Defendant relied on the testimony of its overnight staff members (the assaults occurred overnight), each of whom denied that any such sexual assaults occurred. Finally, Defendant challenged the minor Plaintiff's veracity, positing that he had formulated a false memory of sexual attacks.

Discovery was exhaustive and contentious. Judge Stewart referred the matter to a discovery referee. Plaintiff prevailed on several motions to compel discovery responses. As a result of these many efforts, Plaintiff was able to acquire compelling evidence that Five Acres had ample notice of the perpetrator's predatory tendencies yet failed to take any preventative measures and actions.

Defendant failed to make any meaningful settlement offers prior to trial. Plaintiff's CCP Section 998 offer, in the amount of $2,000,000, was also rejected with no counter offer made prior to the start of trial.

The jury rejected defendant's arguments, reaching a verdict for Plaintiff on May12 on his claims for Negligence and Breach of Fiduciary Duty. With respect to the negligence claim, the jury apportioned 95% of the fault to Five Acres and 5% of the fault to the perpetrator. The jury awarded $5,000,000 in non-economic damages and $354,000 in lost earnings capacity.

"My client's greatest wish throughout this ordeal was that no other child will have to endure the horrors of his suffering at Five Acres or other group homes. We sincerely hope that all group homes put the safety and well-being of the children above financial considerations. My client and I are grateful to the jury for helping us send this strong message."