School district reaches $27M settlement with family of boy killed in bullying incident

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The Moreno Valley Unified School District has agreed to pay $27 million to the family of an eighth-grader who died in a bullying incident four years ago at Landmark Middle School.

The lawyers representing the family of Diego Stolz announced the settlement Wednesday.

Diego Stolz was 13 years old when he died. A graphic video of the attack that took his life showed the moment two teenage boys attacked him on school grounds.

In the video, Stolz can be seen with his arms at his side as another student gets directly in his face before smacking him. Stolz, stunned, takes a step back before a second student off-screen sucker punches him in the back of the head. Stolz goes down immediately and then hits his head against a pillar.

Stolz suffered a traumatic brain injury and died nine days later.

Video captured on a student’s cell phone shows the moments before Diego Stolz is attacked by two teens in September 2019. Stolz died nine days after the attack. (Video provided by family attorneys)

His family sued the School District, alleging he was a regular victim of bullying and the school was aware of the ongoing harassment he was facing.

Dave Ring, one of the family’s attorneys, called Diego’s death “preventable” had the school taken the concerns more seriously and prioritized an anti-bullying policy.

In the days leading up to the attack that would end his life, the harassment of Diego intensified, leading to a meeting with the 13-year-old and a family member.

The family’s attorneys say school administrators promised family members and Diego that the boys who were harassing and bullying him would be suspended and that the school was “taking care” of the problem.

But when Diego arrived at school days later, he found that the boys were not suspended and the bullying began again, reaching new highs as they physically assaulted him for what would be the final time.

The settlement comes after a 2020 California law was enacted that asserted that legal guardians were allowed to bring forth a civil suit in the wrongful or negligent death of a minor. Diego’s birth parents had died when he was young and he was being raised by his aunt and uncle.

The bill was inspired by Diego’s death and allowed for his legal guardians to pursue civil claims against the School District.

The settlement comes nearly four years to the day after the attack that ultimately took his life. The $27 million payout is the largest bullying settlement in the nation’s history, the family’s attorneys say.

“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,” Ring said when announcing that terms of a settlement had been reached.

A framed photo showed Diego Stolz, 13, who was fatally injured in an assault on Sept. 16 at Landmark Middle School in Moreno Valley. (Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
A framed photo showed Diego Stolz, 13, who was fatally injured in an assault on Sept. 16 at Landmark Middle School in Moreno Valley. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Neil Gehlawat, another attorney representing Diego’s family, said he hopes this settlement will be the first step toward real change toward widespread anti-bullying measures.

The two teens who were responsible for Diego’s death spent 47 days in juvenile custody after entering what amount to guilty pleas for involuntary manslaughter and assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury.

A judge declined to sentence them to additional time, but the boys, who were 14 at the time, were ordered to attend anger management, according to the Associated Press.

In the aftermath of Diego’s death, Landmark Middle School’s principal at the time and two assistant principals were removed from their positions.

Diego’s family announced his organs would be donated.

The Moreno Valley Unified School District did not comment on the settlement and told the AP it did not intend to do so.

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