The San Moreno Valley School District was ordered to pay $27 million to the boy’s family on Wednesday. The judgement came just before the four-year anniversary of the death of Diego Stolz, 13, who was killed on 16 September 2019.
Mr Stolz died after two 13-year-old boys punched him from behind, causing him to fall and hit his head on a concrete pillar. The boys then continued to punch him as he lay on the ground. He died of a brain injury nine days later.
In 2021, the pair pleaded guilty to charges of manslaughter and assault in juvenile court. A Riverside County judge sentenced them to 47 days in juvenile custody as well as community service and therapy.
The family of the victim filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district and claimed that their son had gone to the school administration about the bullying, yet no action was taken.
The family’s attorneys said the school promised Mr Stolz and his family that the boys would be discplined and suspended, but they were not.
"The following Monday when Diego came to his middle school, they killed him,” the attorneys said in a statement. “We hope this case is a [wake-up] call to all schools in the U.S. — take your anti-bullying policies seriously, and when a student complains, take action. You have a duty to protect kids at school.”
The attack was caught on video while it took place in the lunchroom of the middle school. Mr Stolz is seen with his hands at his side before he is approached and punched.
Mr Stolz had been attacked by the two teenagers a few days before. The victim and his family then went to the assistant principal, who said she would review security footage, something that allegedly did not happen.
The statement added that the assistant principal was approached again a few days later, which she said she would be suspending the boys and would change the schedules of the three students so they would not have any classes with Mr Stolz. In addition that day, she sent the victim home early.
Yet, when Mr Stolz returned the Monday morning of the attack, “the bullies had not been suspended,” the lawyers continued, “and the security footage still had not been reviewed. Neither Diego nor his guardians were informed of this.”
After the death of Mr Stolz, his legal guardians, who were his aunt and uncle, decided to file a lawsuit against the school for failing to intervene despite the victim reporting previous assults within the school, according to the lawsuit. Mr Stolz had been bullied in 2018 and 2019, and received several physical attacks before the fatal blow, according to NBC.
The huge payout by the school district was described by the attorneys as the “largest school bullying settlement in US history.”
“The family will forever be heartbroken by the death of Diego but they hope this case brings about change in school districts across the country,” said Dave Ring, the family’s attorney.
His aunt and uncle, Juana and Felipe Salcedo, had raised Mr Stolz since he was a baby after his parents died and was regarded as their son, the statement said.
A letter to family and school staff from San Moreno Valley Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Martinrex Kedziora outlined new policies meant to prevent similar tragedies.
Meanwhile, the sheriff’s department announced in September 2019 that Stolz’s family had donated his organs "to transform this tragedy into the gift of life for other children."
In September 2020, according to the attorneys, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 2445, which was “inspired by Diego’s tragic death and clarified that legal guardians have standing to bring suit in civil claims involving a minor whose death may have stemmed from a wrongful or negligent act, but only if the child’s natural parents are deceased.”