CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Daniel Rodriguez delivering his closing argument. Click here to see video from the trial.
Bakersfield, CA - A California state court jury on Wednesday awarded $3.8 million to a former high school student who blamed inadequate security policies for the serious injuries he suffered in a 2013 school shooting, in the first such case of its kind to go to trial in nearly 25 years
Plaintiff Bowe Cleveland was shot in the chest with a shotgun by fellow Taft Union High School student Bryan Oliver. Cleveland accused school administrators of failing to prevent the shooting by not acting on a pattern of troubling behavior from Oliver, including making threats to other classmates and disturbing drawings.
The jury’s award of $3.8 million surpasses the $1.13 million suggested by an attorney for the school district but falls far short of the nearly $45 million requested by Cleveland’s attorney, Daniel Rodriguez of Rodriguez & Associates.
The full trial, which marked the first time a jury heard civil claims related to a school shooting, was recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network and is available to subscribers in CVN’s online video library.
Rodriguez told CVN after the conclusion of the trial that the highest pre-trial settlement offer was $700,000. The school district later approached him with a high/low agreement of $5 million and $1 million, subsequently increased to $2 million, but the case proceeded to a verdict without an agreement in place.
An attorney for the school district did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rodriguez attributed the difference between his request and the jury's award to a reluctance to saddle a small rural school district with large monetary damages. He also suggested the jury's lack of knowledge of the school district's insurance coverage contributed to their decision.
"We hope that this verdict, we think the first of its kind in the country, serves as a wake up call to school districts everywhere," Rodriguez said. "They must do more than just pay lip service to school safety. They have to make it a priority."
Jurors already found the school district liable for the shooting on July 11, and they reached their decision on a damages award in the second phase of the bifurcated trial after deliberating Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning.
Rodriguez detailed the seriousness of Cleveland’s wounds during his closing argument in the second phase of the trial. He explained explained that Cleveland faced a lifetime of continuing medical problems, describing the numerous surgeries Cleveland required, and how he still deals with lead pellets that remain embedded in his body.
“That’s a lot of money, but it’s a lot of harm,” Rodriguez said.
Representing the school district, Leonard Herr of Herr Pedersen Berglund LLP conceded that he wouldn’t take $1.13 million to go through what Cleveland experienced, but suggested it was a more reasonable amount of compensation.
Herr suggested Cleveland faced a potentially more complete recovery than his attorney argued, noting how he’s successfully stopped taking pain medication that he previously required.
“$44 million is just not a reasonable amount,” Herr said during his closing argument.
During the liability phase of the trial, Herr argued that the school district followed security policies specifically created by the local police for school safety. He noted that a school safety officer was unexpectedly absent the morning of the shooting.
Oliver is currently serving a 27-year prison sentence.
The trial took place before Judge David Lampe.
The case is captioned Bowe Cleveland v. Taft Union High School District, case number S-1500-CV-279256 in Kern County Superior Court, California.
E-mail David Siegel at email@example.com