Suit: Bus driver ‘assaulted’ boy

February 27, 2019

La PORTE – The La Porte Community School Corp. is denying all accusations made in a lawsuit by a couple who claim their autistic son was bullied and assaulted by a school bus driver, forcing him to undergo psychiatric treatment and change schools.

The boy, identified only as J.V., is now 11, and suffers from multiple disabilities, according to the suit, including autism spectrum disorder, depressive disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivate disorder.

“Once a bright and engaged student, J.V. no longer enjoyed school and suffered increased emotional problems as a result of the school’s failure to prevent its employee from bullying J.V.” the suit, filed on Nov. 27, 2018, in La Porte Circuit Court, claims.

Prior to the incident, J.V. had perfect attendance, but his anxiety about the incident “worsened to the point where he suffered a mental breakdown and was admitted to an inpatient pediatric psychiatric facility for three weeks,” the suit claimed.

When he returned, he was unable to continue his studies “due to the fear and anxiety that he now associated with the school,” according to the suit. His parents were forced to send him to another school.

School Superintendent Mark Francesconi said Tuesday he was “not at liberty” to comment on the matter.

But in an “Answer and Affirmative Defenses” document filed on Feb. 5, 2019, the school corporation and co-defendants Laurie Lanning and David Eggers deny all of the accusations.

The document, filed by attorney Kevin Vanderground of Merrillville, noted that the plaintiffs have “failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted”; the claims may be “time barred”; the plaintiffs failed to “mitigate” damages, and “failed to exhaust their administrative remedies” for some of the claims.

According to the suit, J.V. attended fourth grade at Kingsbury Elementary School for the 2016-17 school year, and rode to and from school on on a special education bus.

On Nov. 29, 2016, he rode on the bus, which parked behind the school as students waited for the special education staff to escort them into the school.

The suit claims as they waited, several children and the bus driver, Lanning, played a game, and after it ended, “Lanning sat in the seat next to J.V., grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the seat.”

She then “began to scream at him, causing J.V. to become fearful that he would be struck” and as he exited the bus, Lanning “angrily struck then 9-year old J.V. on the head,” causing him to suffer “physical pain, emotional distress” and medical bills, the suit claims.

When the parents reported the incident, Eggers, school district director of transportation, viewed a video of the incident from a school bus camera, but neither he, not the school corporation, reported the abuse to the Indiana Department of Child Services, the suit claims.

A few days later, Lanning again screamed angrily at J.V. on the bus, making him fear another battery, according to the suit. The boy became “fearful of Lanning and was reluctant to return to the school bus,” but the school corporation assured the family “Lanning would have no further contact with J.V.”

However, she was not terminated, nor removed from her bus, and instead, J.V. was forced to ride another bus to school.

A few months later, in January 2017, J.V. entered the lunchroom “when Lanning – whom J.V. now feared – stepped in front of J.V. and said, ‘Hi, J.V.’ ” The suit claims this was intended to “intimidate” the boy. He was intimidated, and the distress and fear he experienced after the initial battery, was renewed.

The suit claims battery for Lanning’s act of striking the boy; and assault for Lanning’s act of screaming at J.V. with the intent to make J.V. fearful.

It also claims negligent training, hiring and retention by the district; intentional infliction of emotional distress because Lanning’s “acts of screaming at J.V. and striking him served no legitimate purpose and constituted extreme and outrageous conduct that no reasonable person in a civilized society would engage in – especially a person employed as a bus driver for vulnerable children with disabilities.”

It also claims negligent failure to timely report child abuse against Eggers and the school district.

The suit seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees. The parents, identified only as M.V. and A.V., and the boy, are represented by Gary attorneys Corbin Fowler and Pamela Cleary.

—From staff reports