On September 13, 2023, Taylor & Ring obtained a $27 million settlement against Moreno Valley Unified School District – the largest school bullying settlement in U.S. history – for the death of Diego Stoltz. The settlement was finalized almost exactly four years after Diego was killed by his bullies at Landmark Middle School. Since then, Diego’s story has led to legislative changes in California regarding the rights of guardians to bring civil claims.
“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 Dave 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 Neil 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.”
WATCH Dave Ring on Good Day LA: Attorney discusses $27M bullying lawsuit
About the case against MVUSD
Diego Stolz was a typical 13-year-old boy. He liked video games and playing soccer. He loved music and hiking. He did his best in school, and had a lot of friends. He was raised by his aunt and uncle after his parents died. He had a good life.
He was also the victim of constant verbal and physical bullying, and in the end, it killed him.
WARNING: The following video was recorded on a cellphone by a witness to Diego’s fatal attack. Its contents are graphic. Viewer discretion is advised.
What happened to Diego was a preventable tragedy and a crime
The Salcedos lodged several complaints with administrators at Landmark Middle School between 2018 and 2019 (Diego’s 7th and 8th grade years), telling them that Diego was being repeatedly bullied. On Thursday, September 12, 2019, Diego sought the help of his science teacher after being sucker punched in the head. The teacher informed the Assistant Principal that day; she claimed she would review the security footage to find the perpetrators, but she did not.
On Friday, September 13, 2019, the Salcedos’ adult daughter accompanied Diego to see the Assistant Principal, who said she knew who the bullies were, and that they would receive suspensions for their actions. The Assistant Principal also promised to switch around those boys’ schedules so they would not have any classes with Diego. She sent Diego home early that Friday, believing he would be safe. When Diego returned to school on Monday, September 16, 2019, the bullies had not been suspended, and the security footage still had not been reviewed. Neither Diego nor his guardians were informed of this. They certainly never reported it to any law enforcement agencies.
That same day, Diego was attacked by two bullies at lunch, where a student filmed the attack. In the video, you can see the bullies standing nose-to-nose with Diego whose hands remain at his sides – a clear indication that he did not want to fight, and would not escalate the situation.
But it didn’t matter. One of the bullies sucker punched Diego again; the hit knocked Diego to the ground, and his head struck a concrete pillar. One of the bullies punched him in the face again as he lay on the ground.
The bullies walked away. Diego was rushed to a hospital and placed on life support. He has sustained a traumatic brain injury. He never regained consciousness.
Nine days later, he died.
WATCH Neil Gehlawat on ABC 7: $27 million settlement reached in lawsuit over bullying death of 13-year-old Moreno Valley student
Holding Moreno Valley Unified School District accountable for its role in Diego’s death
The terrible tragedy of what happened to Diego Stolz is not an outlier. The lawsuit asserted the following about Moreno Valley Unified School District:
The District has long history of student altercations on its campuses, including at Landmark Middle School, and a long history of doing little or nothing about those altercations. The District failed to enact any effective safety procedures to protect its students. The District failed to enforce its anti-bullying policies. The District negligently supervised its students. The District had a mandatory duty to properly supervise its students on campus, pursuant to the Education Code and other statutes and laws, yet failed to do so.
Moreno Valley Unified School District and Landmark Middle School failed Diego Stolz at every step. They knew he was being bullied, and they did nothing to protect him.
How Diego’s life has changed the lives of others
We know this settlement will not bring Diego back. It has been a terrible four years for his loved ones, who are still struggling under their grief. But as Dave Ring told Fox 11, this lawsuit was a vehicle to being about change – and it did.
Because of what happened to Diego, the California Assembly passed Bill 2445 in September 2020, which clarified that legal guardians do have standing to bring a lawsuit in civil claims where a minor’s may have stemmed from a wrongful or negligent act, provided the child’s natural parents are deceased. Diego’s parents passed away years ago, and Juana and Felipe raised him since he was a baby. He was their son, and they could do nothing to ensure that this terrible fate would not befall other families. AB 2445 made sure that folks like the Salcedos could seek justice in the future.
Serving clients throughout the Greater Los Angeles and Southern California area, we represent victims in a variety of civil litigation cases. If you or a loved one has been injured, turn to an experienced Los Angeles personal injury or sexual assault lawyer.
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