February 7, 2023 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Jury Awards Family of Special Needs Twins $45 Million in Abuse Lawsuit Against SMMUSD

Twins physically abused by behavioral aid, according to lawsuit

By Sam Catanzaro

A jury last week ruled that the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District must pay $45 million to the family of special needs twins who were physically abused by a behavioral aid. 

The lawsuit was filed in 2019 by plaintiffs Charles and Nadine Wong on behalf of their two sons, who were students at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School in Malibu. The school has since closed after merging with the Point Dume Marine Science School site to accommodate a middle school at the Cabrillo site.

According to the lawsuit, during the 2017-2018 school year Galit Gottlieb, a behavioral aid assigned to the twins, used corporal punishment on the two boys. Allegations include making the twins – both of whom had “extremely limited” communication capabilities – put hand sanitizer on cuts and grabbing them in a manner intended to inflict pain.

The abuse was first reported by a bus driver for the district. 

The lawsuit contends that the twins suffered damages, including bruising, emotional distress and pain, suffering and inconvenience, in addition to special damages such as counseling expenses, behavioral interventions and increased living expenses. 

“District administrators failed the twins by allowing them to be abused for months despite clear warnings they were being harmed,” said the plaintiff’s attorney David W. German of Vanaman German LLP in a statement. “Even now, they refuse to acknowledge the extent of the harm their employee caused. Fortunately, the jury saw through their continued attempt to cover-up what occurred.”

Omar Qureshi of Qureshi Law PC also represented the plaintiffs in the case. The defendants were represented by Stephen J. Tomasulo of Hill, Farrer & Burrill LLP and Marlon C. Wadlington of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo. In addition to Gottlieb and SMMUSD, the case names other defendants including the then-principal of Cabrillo Elementary Pamela Herkner, district administrator Elizabeth Sciutto, Special Education Director Pamela Kazee and Assistant Superintendent Mark Kelly.

When reached for comment, the SMMUSD provided a statement from Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati

“Nothing is – or ever could be – more important to us than the safety and security of all students. Our ongoing dedication to our special needs students is paramount to the success of our district as a whole, and we are committed to making sure that nothing like what has been claimed here could ever happen in the future,” Drati said. “We must always examine our shortcomings, but we are also determined to protect the well-being of thousands of our future students and ensure that an unduly punitive award cannot impact the quality of education for an entire generation.” 

“There are still aspects of this case playing out legally and at this moment we cannot answer every question being asked. The District looks forward to sharing its side of the story as soon as possible,” Drati added.

Related Posts

Sofia Klatzker Named Cultural Affairs Manager of Santa Monica

February 6, 2023

February 6, 2023

Klatzker to replace Shannon Daut in role to oversee arts, culture and creative policies in the City Sofia Klatzker has...

Duo Charged for Alleged Caregiver Fraud Scheme Against Malibu Physician Who Was Drugged With LSD in Final Days

February 6, 2023

February 6, 2023

Anthony David Flores and Anna Rene Moore face up to 20 years in prison A Fresno hairstylist and an actress...

Metro Working on Plan to Provide Shelter for Homeless Passengers When Trains Are Emptied

February 6, 2023

February 6, 2023

Metro estimates that 800 people use Metro train and rapid transit bus stations as shelter each night By Dolores Quintana...

Arrests Made in Daylight Armed Robbery of Rolex in Downtown Santa Monica

February 6, 2023

February 6, 2023

Leroy McCrary and Donta Baker arrested in connection to September robbery By Sam Catanzaro Two men have been arrested for...

Santa Monica Nonprofit WISE & Healthy Aging Launches Advocacy Website

February 6, 2023

February 6, 2023

WISEOmbudsman.org designed to provide tools s to those who are looking to get better care in a skilled nursing or...

Tishman Speyer Announces Basis Investment Group as Equity Partner for Santa Monica Collection

February 3, 2023

February 3, 2023

BIG’s $30 million commitment — 11 percent of total equity — to the 3.1-acre mixed-use development will help create 617...

Two Industry Titans Invest $30M in Lavish Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica Homes

February 3, 2023

February 3, 2023

David Bonderman and Christa Campbell recently acquired two lavish homes By Dolores Quintana Private equity tycoon David Bonderman and his...

Four-Year-Old Mountain Lion P-81 Found Dead on PCH

February 2, 2023

February 2, 2023

P-81 found on Pacific Coast Highway near Las Posas Road On Sunday, January 22, the California Department of Fish and...

Rep. Lieu Secures $2.5 Million for Local Projects in Santa Monica

February 2, 2023

February 2, 2023

Funding will go towards Santa Monica Behavioral Health Center and Ready to Succeed Scholarship program  By Sam Catanzaro ​​Congressman Ted...

Steve Marcy, Beloved Lincoln Middle School Teacher and Scoutmaster, Passes Away at 77

February 2, 2023

February 2, 2023

Longtime Lincoln math teacher passes away  ​​Steve Marcy, beloved Lincoln Middle School teacher and Scoutmaster of Santa Monica Boy Scout...

California Referendum Postpones Controversial Fast Recovery Act That Would Increase Hourly Wages for Fast-Food Workers to $22

February 1, 2023

February 1, 2023

AB 257 would create a board of 11 appointees to negotiate on behalf of fast food workers in California Last...

Highly-Anticipated Downtown Santa Monica Restaurant Close to Opening

February 1, 2023

February 1, 2023

Bar Monette close to opening at 109 Santa Monica Boulevard By Dolores Quintana Bar Monette is almost ready to open...

SMC Receives Grant to Expand Access to Critical Support Services for Foster Youth

February 1, 2023

February 1, 2023

New NextUp program will provide academic & comprehensive support, plus direct financial aid to foster youth enrolled at SMC Santa...

Find Inspiration in Moses Sparks’ Latest Collection of Tree Portraits in the Santa Monica Mountains

February 1, 2023

February 1, 2023

The exhibition and sale run from February 1st – 26th at the King Gillette Ranch Visitor Center  Internationally-acclaimed wildlife photographer,...

Pacific Park Joins The City Of Santa Monica To Recognize ‘Black History Month’ With Ferris Wheel Salute

February 1, 2023

February 1, 2023

Display of red, yellow and green colors, patterns and transitions beginning at sunset February 1 On Wednesday, February 1, the...