NJ School District Must Pay $4.2 Million To Bullied Student

A New Jersey school district has agreed to pay $4.2 million to settle a lawsuit by a middle school student who was paralyzed when a known bully punched him in the abdomen.

The settlement between the Ramsey school district and the family of Sawyer Rosenstein was worked out over the past two months but not made public until last week.

As it happens, New Jersey’s new antibullying law, the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, went into effect last September, and is said to be the toughest in the nation. The law strengthens rules put in place in 2002 and 2007 and expands bullying to include online harassment that takes place outside of school. Of course, such laws are effective only if they are enforced and adequately funded.

It was on May 16, 2006, when Rosenstein was a 12-year-old student at Eric Smith Middle School in Ramsey, New Jersey, that another student punched him in the abdomen, sending a blood clot to his spine, and eventually paralyzing him from the waist down a week later.

Rosenstein has been in a wheelchair for the past six years, and is now majoring in communication at Syracuse University. The family’s attorney, Jeffrey Youngman, told ABC News that this case is unique; he doesn’t know of any other bullying case that has resulted in a larger settlement based on personal injury.

“This was a three-pronged case,” he told ABC News. “We had to show that his paralysis was a result of the punch. We also found that the school knew Sawyer had been regularly bullied, and didn’t do anything about it, and that the other student had showed violent propensities, and they didn’t do anything about that either.”

The family’s lawsuit alleged school officials knew or should have known the boy’s attacker had violent tendencies and failed to comply with a state anti-bullying law. The boy had punched another student in the face on a school bus a year earlier, but the school kept no record of it or other attacks and the attacker was not subjected to escalating discipline, the suit said.

Just three months before being punched, Rosenstein, then 12, emailed school officials to report he was being bullied and to ask for help, reports The Record. “I would like to let you know that the bullying has increased,” he wrote to his guidance counselor at the Eric Smith Middle School. “I would like to figure out some coping mechanisms to deal with these situations, and I would just like to put this on file so if something happens again, we can show that there was past bullying situations.”

Rosenstein told The Record he has always tried to maintain a positive attitude. “I can’t go back and change the past. What I can do is look at what I have now and what is ahead of me. And I have my whole life ahead of me,” he said.

The Rosensteins also settled a claim against the boy who attacked their son. Youngman said the terms were confidential.

After the settlement was reached, the Ramsey Board of Education released a statement denying any wrongdoing, and saying that the district’s insurance carriers agreed to the settlement and will pay it out.

Bullying has been a focus of attention for school authorities ever since the Columbine massacre in 1999, and it’s great news that Sawyer Rosenstein will receive this award, although nothing can stop him being paralyzed for life. Still, I find it shameful that the Ramsey Board of Education accepted no responsibility for this horrible incident.

What do you think?

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Photo Credit: kawwsu29

82 comments

Aimee A.
Aimee A6 years ago

I wish that the bullies would stop, but sadly, no matter what, the bullies won't stop. Thanks for posting!

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Ian Brown
Ian Brown6 years ago

Bullying is inexcusable. Physical bullying can end up with any consequence, even death, and mental bullying could have any outcome, including suicide! Bullies are stupid people who don't think about, never mind foresee, the result of their actions; most of them probably end up as corporate bosses!

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Carrie H.
Carrie H6 years ago

Sad it happened that way the school should be ashamed they could have stopped it.

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yana dimitrova
yana dimitrova6 years ago

Thank you.

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Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers6 years ago

This is just the tip of the iceberg!

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Josha N.
Josha N6 years ago

Ha! That'll show 'em :D Too bad it's not going to get the poor kid the use of his legs back.

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Kimberlee W.
Kimberlee W6 years ago

Thank you Aurea; yes I know I don't now nor then. Matter of fact is, a few yrs. after graduating, I ran into a few folks I'd gone to school with who had bullied me. A couple of them had disparaging memories of me, some acted as if it had never happened, and even a few DID admit to being intimidated of me. (I didn't have to take more than 1 senor final because of my grades).
Unfortunately, not everyone GETS stronger. Some won't make it, some will have memories that they allow to haunt them into adulthood. I don't know what to say to someone who DECIDES that defeat is the only alternative. I honestly don't know what anyone could have said to me at that time.
And, reading what I have, it would seem that the bullying has not only become more sophisticated, but has become increasingly violent. My neighbor's 15-yr. old came home on the bus a couple yrs. ago, shaking violently because just minutes before, a girl stabbed the girl he was talking to in the neck.
And Nancy? Sorry to have to tell you this, but my teachers blamed me as much as they pitied me. But they never did anything about it. No reports, no punishment. My mother had to argue with my 5th grade principal because my teacher's pets stole all my books in the last hours of the school yr. Embarrassingly, she did it in front of me and most of the school's staff.
So don't try telling me that all teachers care so much. Far too many are there for the paycheck, but God Bless the ones who are there for the kids.

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Isabel Ramirez
Isabel Ramirez6 years ago

Anyone being bullied at a school should sue. It's unfair to say that they're just as safe in school as in home when they're being bullied.

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Nancy Crouse
Nancy Crouse6 years ago

Quit blaming the teachers! These bullies are reported to the administration and they ignore the warnings, but the teachers are the ones who try to protect the victims. If the NJ board is not admiting any wrongdoing then why settle? Something is definitely rotten in the state of Denmark! They are guilty as hell.
Teachers are all too often bullied by administrators too and are prevented from affecting any change against bullies.

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Morgan Forrester
Past Member 6 years ago

Maybe this will send a message that teachers just can't look away anymore!

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