$15 Million Settlement for O.B. Whaley Sexual Abuse Victims
Administrative negligence harms innocent O.B. Whaley molestation victims
This case started with a single victim. In January 2012, authorities arrested Craig Chandler on suspicion of molesting a young child at O.B. Whaley Elementary School, where he had worked as a teacher for nine years. As the investigation proceeded, it became clear that he had molested five girls going back to 2010. The jury sentenced Chandler to 75 years in prison. Moreover, O.B. Whaley’s principal, Lyn Vijayendran, who was told of Chandler’s inappropriate behavior but failed to notify police or Child Protective Services, was sentenced to six months in jail.
Attorney Robert Allard of Corsiglia McMahon & Allard led the litigation team against the Evergreen Elementary School District. By preparing an airtight case against the District, Mr. Allard’s team persuaded the District to pay $15 million to the victims for the lifelong harm they are to endure. At the same time, the settlement prevented the poor victims from having to relive their trauma in a courtroom. Allard knew that the Evergreen School District was clearly at fault—that the principal of O.B. Whaley had been previously made aware of Chandler’s inappropriate behavior with students, and had even been observed engaging in inappropriate acts by other teachers, yet the principal had taken no action. Hence the extraordinarily large amount of the settlement.
A Tragic Reminder of Administrative Negligence
This case should remind all childhood molestation victims’ rights attorneys that there are often multiple victims in sex abuse cases. In addition, when a teacher, coach, or religious leader perpetrates sexual abuse against minors, there is frequently systemic negligence or misconduct by administrators.
Mr. Allard is an acclaimed trial lawyer, whose area of expertise is child sex abuse cases. He has made use of his acclaim and success in court to aggressively champion the protection of child sex abuse victims. Allard helped to author and ensure the passage of “Audrie’s Law,” which broadened the legal definition of rape to include those unconscious or mentally disabled. He helmed the legal team which garnered the four families involved in the O.B. Whaley sex abuse case a $15 million settlement, which the courts will protect for the sole use of the minors.
How the Case Proceeded
One of Chandler’s victims went before Principal Vijayendran and told her, chapter and verse, about how Chandler blindfolded her, put something in her mouth, took hold of her head, and moved it back and forth. The victim also testified later that a salty substance was put in her mouth. At least one parent reported Chandler’s suspicious activity to the school in 2011. In early 2012, the fifth victim informed her mother of Chandler’s so-called “Helen Keller” game. Upon calling the school to complain, they told the mother to call Chandler directly. At that point, the mother called police. It was later discovered that Principal Lyn Vijayendran, despite being a mandated reporter, decided that she had better conduct her own investigation into Chandler’s activities—thereby committing a misdemeanor.
In the months following Chandler’s early 2012 conviction, several more victims came forward. Victims’ rights attorney Robert Allard filed suit against South Bay School District on behalf of four of these victims. Allard had two objectives in mind: securing a just settlement for the victims he represented and yet, at the same time, shielding them from further traumatization and psychological harm. To that end, he (in conjunction with attorney Stephen Estey) and his legal team worked countless hours to prepare for the impending trial, gathering testimony, building a body of evidence, and untangling the web of Craig Chandler’s activities going back to 2010. It was this preparation, Allard believes, that influenced the final settlement.
Victims’ Rights Attorneys Who Go the Distance
Child sex abuse is a crime with special repercussions for its victims. The pain, anguish, shame, guilt, fear, anger, and devastation child sex abuse victims experience can echo within their hearts and souls for years after the abuse takes place. Plaintiff attorneys should never forget that the victims whom they represent are people, living, breathing beings who may have PTSD or other stress-related disorders or phobias. In preparing for trial, attorneys should go the extra mile; not only in trial prep, but also to secure the psychological wellbeing of clients, preventing their re-traumatization.
Attorneys should also bear in mind the human failings which underlie childhood sex abuse; not merely on the part of the abuser, but the institution or organization which stands behind them. Schools, religious groups, athletic organizations, and other entities frequently go to great lengths to protect their reputations. Often, these organizations will launch inadequate and half-hearted internal investigations rather than reporting suspected sex crimes to the proper authorities, as law mandates. This takes diligent investigation on the part of the legal team. Lawyers should make every effort to begin an investigation as soon as possible and recover incriminating correspondence (letters, emails, memoranda) before it is lost—or destroyed. It is this type of immediate, exhaustive research which numerous times has uncovered evidence which sways juries and recovers large settlements.
O.B. Whaley Molestation Cases a Result of Systemic Failure
This was a much deeper problem that involved much more than just one person making a horrible mistake. This was a systemic failure. In addition to the principal, at least one other teacher at O.B. Whaley as well as the District’s superintendent and human resources director knew all about what Chandler was doing. However, shockingly, he continued to sexually molest children under the auspices that he was teaching them about Helen Keller. Seemingly both the school and the district turned a blind eye to obvious acts of insidious childhood sexual abuse. When you combine this with the fact that there was a complete absence of any training or education on sex abuse issues, it leads to grave doubts about whether our children are safe from sex abuse in public schools. Parents everywhere should heed this warning.
This case sends a clear message to pedophiles, school administrators, and to victims. Pedophiles cannot perpetrate their crimes against young, innocent victims and get away with it. School administrators must report sex crimes to Child Protective Services and the police rather than try to protect their reputations. Finally, victims may rest assured that competent, compassionate attorneys like Mr. Allard have their best interests in heart from the start of the case to the end.