By Eric Stevick and Scott North Herald Writers
SEATTLE — A jury has decided the Snohomish School District must pay $1.3 million for its negligence in failing to protect two Snohomish High School girls from being stabbed in 2011 by a mentally troubled classmate.
The verdict was announced Tuesday after a King County Superior Court trial.
The lawsuit was brought by the families of April Lutz and a friend, Bekah Staudacher, who were both 15 and freshmen when the attack occurred in a high school restroom on Oct. 24, 2011.
Tuesday’s verdict focused on the injuries suffered by Lutz and her family.
“April and her friend were attacked in what parents and students are led to believe is a safe place — their high school — and the verdict proves the school district patently failed to take the most basic common sense precautions to protect the girls from a foreseeable danger,” Sim Osborn, an attorney representing Lutz, said in a prepared statement. “All of the warning signs were there, but no one opened their eyes, communicated with one another or took steps to safeguard students from a deeply disturbed classmate.”
April Lutz had life-threatening injuries, with 13 stab wounds that caused damage to her heart and a lung. She was so close to death her heart stopped beating three times on the way to the hospital.
Bekah Staudacher was slashed in the arm and stabbed in the back trying to protect her friend. Her part of the lawsuit was previously settled out of court, school officials said Tuesday.
The stabbing victims’ families filed their lawsuit against the Snohomish School District in June 2012 after learning of records that showed school counselors were aware that the assailant had been having fantasies of violent assaults on others, but was allowed to return to school.
The girl behind the attack came to school that day with knives in her backpack. She waited in a bathroom stall and apparently picked her victims at random.
Neither girl knew their attacker, an upperclassman. In 2012 she pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and second-degree assault. Under a plea agreement, she’s now serving 13 years behind bars. The plan is to keep her in a juvenile lock-up where she’ll receive mental health treatment for about five years. After her 21st birthday, she’s expected to be moved to adult prison to serve out the remainder of her sentence.
The girl told adults in spring 2011 that she was thinking about killing others or herself. She had been seeing a therapist and receiving medication for depression.
She was expelled from school in April 2011 after she threatened to stab another student, court papers said. School officials said the girl needed to get professional counseling before returning.
She attended out-patient services at Fairfax Hospital for about eight days before the hospital concluded she was safe to resume classes, according to court papers.
The girl continued to see a therapist for the next eight months, with her last visit about three weeks before the assaults, according to court papers.
By September 2011, the girl was again a source of worry at the high school, Osborn wrote.
In addition to the school district, the lawsuit named Fairfax Hospital and the parents of the girl who attacked the teens. Those other parties earlier settled out of court.
The case was brought to make schools safer, Osborn said.
“The only way we can force change is through monetary payment,” he said. “April and her parents would avoid this situation at any cost if possible, because they know no amount of money will restore April’s lost sense of security, or fully heal her emotional and physical wounds.”
Kristin Foley, a spokeswoman for the school district, said the district constantly is evaluating how to make its campuses safer.
“This has been very difficult for everyone involved,” she said.
She added: “We trusted the jury process. The jury made its decision. Now we move forward.”
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org.