Moreno Valley Unified settled the case for $27M on the four-year anniversary of Diego Stolz’s death as a result of bullying.
The video of the incident is available here. (Warning: This video depicts material of a sensitive and graphic nature.)
Riverside, Calif. — On September 13, 2023, Dave Ring and Neil Gehlawat of Taylor & Ring, a Los Angeles-based plaintiff trial law firm, obtained a $27 million settlement against Moreno Valley Unified School District on behalf of legal guardians Juana Salcedo and Felipe Salcedo for the wrongful death of their nephew, Diego Stolz. Diego was a 13-year-old student at Landmark Middle School who was killed by bullies at his school in September 2019 after school administrators failed to intervene despite previous reports of assault.
“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 lead counsel Ring. “Schools need to realize that bullying can never be tolerated and that any complaints of bullying and assault must be taken seriously. Diego’s death was preventable if this school had simply prioritized an anti-bullying policy.”
“This lawsuit has put schools on notice to find ways to effectively deal with bullying and to enact real anti-bullying policies,” explains attorney Gehlawat. “Although his family’s grief can never be taken away, we believe real change will come, and there will be a renewed focus on anti-bullying programs across the nation.”
In September 2020, California Assembly Bill 2445 passed, 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. Diego’s mother and father died years ago and Juana and Felipe raised him since he was a baby. The law in California before AB 2445 was passed prevented them from bringing a lawsuit for Diego’s death.
This is the largest bullying settlement in the United States.
Diego Stolz was a 13-year-old student at Landmark Middle School. During his seventh-grade school year in 2018-2019, several male students repeatedly verbally and physically bullied him. Diego’s family made several complaints to the school’s administrators, but the complaints were never taken seriously.
At the start of Diego’s eighth-grade year (2019-2020), the boys continued to bully and harass Diego, both on campus and off. On September 12, 2019, days before Diego’s death, he was sucker-punched in the head from behind as he walked to class. He sought help from a teacher, who reported the incident to the Assistant Principal that same day. The Assistant Principal never checked the school’s security cameras to learn who the assailants were, something she could have easily done in a matter of minutes.
On Friday, September 13, 2019, Juana’s adult daughter and Diego met with the same Assistant Principal to report the assault and to ask for help and protection. The Assistant Principal promised to suspend the bullies for three days, starting Monday, September 16, 2019. The Assistant Principal told Diego to take Friday off from school, and that everything would be taken care of when he returned on Monday. Yet, the Assistant Principal and the school did nothing that day or over the weekend to investigate the assault or to suspend the assailants. The school never reported the assault to law enforcement, as required.
On Monday, September 16, 2019, Diego returned to school believing everything was handled, as promised. No one told Diego or his guardians that nothing had been done, or that the bullies were at school that day. That same day, at lunch, Diego was again confronted by two of the same bullies, and the incident was recorded on a cell phone by another student. The video depicts Diego standing with his arms at his side. The first bully stood nose-to-nose with Diego and was clearly the aggressor, but Diego did nothing to escalate the situation. In fact, Diego intentionally placed his hands against the front of his thighs to show he was not willing to fight. The bully stepped back, and then without warning, sucker-punched Diego in the face. Diego staggered backward and then the second bully sucker punched Diego from the side, hitting him again in the head. The punch knocked Diego down and his head hit a concrete pillar. As he lay on the ground, one of the bullies punched him again in the face. In the video, the two bullies simply walked away after assaulting Diego.
Diego suffered a major traumatic brain injury and never regained consciousness. He died nine days after the assault.
The principal and two assistant principals were removed from Landmark Middle School as a result of this incident.
Taylor & Ring, an award-winning Los Angeles-based trial law firm, represents plaintiffs across California in serious personal injury, wrongful death, sexual assault and abuse cases.