The Herald Bulletin

October 11, 2013

Jury finds in favor of victim in bullying case

School corporation to pay damages

By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin

---- — ANDERSON — A jury has decided in favor of a former Pendleton Heights student in a civil trial involving an instance of extreme bullying in 2008.

On Thursday, a six-member jury decided to award damages to the woman and her family, who brought the tort claim against South Madison Community School Corp. The woman claimed that Pendleton Heights High School and the school district mishandled, or neglected to handle, the fallout of the incident.

The three-day trial wrapped up on Thursday after closing arguments by plaintiff attorney Steven Smith and defense attorney Eric Brodt. With the case decided in the victim's favor, the trial will conclude on Tuesday in Madison Circuit Court 3 with a conference on the monetary amount to be awarded to the woman and her family. On Tuesday, Smith said the family is seeking monetary damages but there's been no discussion about a specific amount.

According to court documents, when the woman, 15 years old at the time, went to school on March 11, 2008, she found out there were pictures of her Photoshopped in a sexually suggestive manner posted all around the school. The fliers also included her real phone number.

The case files indicate school officials determined who the culprit was and immediately suspended him from school. He was also charged as a minor for distribution of child pornography and child exploitation and was later placed on juvenile detention.

The woman and her family claimed that South Madison Community School Corp. was negligent in their handling of the matter, that proper counseling wasn't offered to the victim after the incident and that the family has struggled to recover since.

One key witness Tuesday was Dr. Pamela Porter, an expert in post-traumatic stress disorder who counseled the victim and her family after the incident. Porter said the woman now suffers symptoms of PTSD. The victim reported having symptoms of a panic attack the day of the incident, Porter said, and still has difficulty interacting with people without feeling anxious.

The incident has also affected the victim's focus, Porter said, to the point that she needs to constantly stay busy to take her mind off the bullying incident. Porter also said the label of PTSD could keep the woman from buying life insurance in the future.

"It's had long-lasting effects," Porter said.

Porter, who also has experience in crisis management, said the school could have done more to deal with the incident. According to Porter, school officials did little to acknowledge the incident, did little to offer the teenager a support system afterward and didn't provide her with proper counseling.

According to case documents, South Madison denied negligence and contended it acted with reasonable care in the matter.

The case was brought against the school in September 2009, but out-of-court delays and extensions have pushed the trial back. In 2011, Brodt requested a motion for summary judgment, which was denied by Judge Thomas Newman, allowing the case to continue.

Neither Smith nor Brodt could be reached for comment on Friday.

Like Jack Molitor on Facebook and follow him @aggiejack4 on Twitter, or call 640-4883.