School district to pay $1.3 million in stabbing case
SNOHOMISH - A jury decided last week that the Snohomish School District must pay $1.3 million for negligence in protecting two Snohomish High School victims from a mentally ill classmate who stabbed them on-campus unprovoked in 2011.
The jury’s verdict was announced in King County Superior Court last week.
The district’s insurance fund will pay the claims. The verdict will not affect student education funding, the district said.
Students April Lutz and her friend Bekah Staudacher, freshmen at the time, were attacked in Snohomish High’s bathroom in October 2011.
Lutz’ family filed suit in June 2012 after learning the school counselors had been aware of the mental instability of the student assailant prior to the stabbing.
“We trusted the judicial process, and the jury has made its decision,” school district spokeswoman Kristin Foley said in a prepared statement. “With this verdict, we will now move on.”
In court documents, the district asserted as a defense that the unstable girl’s mental health provider, Fairfax Hospital, breached its duty of care.
Farifax Hospital and its staff were named in the April Lutz case as possibly liable defendants.
The girl’s parents and Fairfax Hospital were also named in the lawsuit. Those parties settled out of court.
The school had expelled the attacker in early 2011 because months before this incident she threatened to stab another student.
She was ordered to seek professional help before she could return to school. After out-patient counseling sessions at Fairfax Hospital, Fairfax deemed her fit to return to school in April 2011 after eight days of attending counseling.
Before the stabbing, the assailant had vivid ideaations of attacking someone, prior case documents state.
On Oct. 24, 2011 she packed two of her father’s knives into her backpack before coming to school.
In the stabbing, Lutz was stabbed 13 times, including stabs to her lungs and a knife blow that pierced her heart that left her in critical condition, and Staudacher was slashed on the arm and stabbed in the back while trying to protect Lutz.
Both girls were 15 and didn’t know their attacker.
Staudacher’s part of the lawsuit had been settled out of court on a previous date.
The assailant, listed as “K.M.” in court documents, pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and second-degree assault, and after a plea agreement, she is currently serving a 13-year sentence in state custody.
The Lutz family sought damages for April’s health, and for the emotional trauma inflicted from the life-altering event. The jury’s verdict focused on Lutz’ suffering and the state of school safety.
“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.”
Osborn said Lutz’ parents did not want the money, but the penalty would force changes.
“The only way we can force change is through monetary payment,” Osborn said in a statement. “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. What this verdict can change is how schools behave in the future.”
The school district is continuing to work on keeping their school environments safe, Foley said.