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Posted on Sat. Jan. 19, 2013 - 02:30 am EDT

Diocese, most families cleared in bullying suit

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FORT WAYNE — A little more than a year ago, the family of a boy who brought bullying accusations against his classmates at Most Precious Blood Catholic School was on the cusp of being paid nearly $20,000 in damages.

Friday, they learned from an Allen Superior Court jury how much they would actually receive: Nothing.

A civil lawsuit that at one time was settled – then abruptly not settled – ended after a five-day trial with a verdict in which the jury ruled that while the boy may have been bullied to an extent, it wasn’t enough to be awarded monetary damages.

The jury also absolved the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese – accused by the family of turning a blind eye to the bullying – of any negligence.

“Obviously, it’s not the result we wanted,” said Konrad Urberg, an attorney for the boy and his family.

Filed in 2010, the lawsuit alleged three of the boy’s classmates subjected him to bullying while he attended the school between sixth and seventh grades.

The boy, who has cerebral palsy and uses leg braces to walk, outlined during the trial more than a year of abuse from several of his classmates.

During testimony, the boy claimed he was called slurs questioning his sexuality, had to endure obscene talk about his mother, was pushed while walking up and down stairs and sometimes hit or struck.

As a result, the boy suffered a stomach ailment as well as marks on his chest and neck, he and the family testified this week.

The boy also told the jury he was frequently depressed about going to school.

And school administrators were repeatedly told about the bullying but did nothing to stop any of it, the boy and his parents testified.

Lawyers for the diocese rebutted those claims, arguing there was scant evidence that the boy was bullied to the extent he claimed.

Alexandria Berman, principal at Most Precious Blood, testified this week that she looked into each claim made by the boy and his family when they came to her.

When she could find classmates who spoke to specific events the boy described, their stories differed widely from the boy’s version, she said.

Bergman testified that some of the stories seemed highly embellished or did not appear to happen the way the boy said they did.

Ultimately, she suspected something else must be affecting the boy.

“I felt (the boy) was striving for attention from his parents and from the school,” Berman said. “Things weren’t matching up.”

Long before the trial, the local diocese and the parents of a few of the boy’s classmates named in the suit agreed to pay the boy’s family $19,750 in damages on a few conditions:

The terms of the settlement could not be disclosed and the fact that there was a settlement at all had to be kept secret.

But The Journal Gazette legally obtained a copy of the settlement and published the information, at which point the diocese rescinded the settlement offer. And despite a warning from the judge overseeing the case about the possibility of bad publicity for the diocese, the parties proceeded to trial.

In its ruling, the jury found that one of the boy’s classmates did inflict pain and anguish on him, but they ordered her family did not have to pay the boy and his family any money.

The panel – made up of four women and three men – also found in favor of another of the boy’s classmates he accused of bullying, ruling there was no evidence the classmate abused the boy.

And the jury ruled there was no evidence to show the diocese was negligent and that it owed the family nothing.

Diocese spokesman Sean McBride said while the diocese is pleased with the outcome, it’s time to offer prayers for everyone involved and time to move on.

jeffwiehe@jg.net


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