NORTH TONAWANDA – A 20-year-old Amherst woman who came forward a decade after the fact to assert she was molested by her third-grade teacher in North Tonawanda has settled her lawsuit against the North Tonawanda School District for $690,000.
Hugh M. Russ III, attorney for the district, said it is the eighth settlement of suits from victims of Jason A. Lorich, the former teacher who served 10 years in prison for child sexual abuse. One suit remains open.
The latest settlement is believed to bring the total amount paid to Lorich’s victims over the $4 million mark.
Christopher J. O’Brien, attorney for the plaintiff, said the money comes from the school district’s insurance company, not from operating funds.
The deal, worked out with State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III, scrubbed a trial that was to have begun Jan. 27.
“The immediate prospect of a public trial does tend to sharpen the focus on settlement,” said Russ, a partner in the Hodgson Russ law firm.
The Buffalo News reported in 2006 that the first seven settlements cost more than $3.5 million, a figure Russ said was higher than the real number, but not drastically so.
The girl’s parents decided not to join the first wave of civil suits.
“At the time, her parents had opted not to bring legal action in the hope that things would calm down and she’d be better in the future,” O’Brien said.
The girl took a different view after she turned 18. O’Brien said his client came forward after hearing media accounts in 2010 of Lorich’s release from prison.
Russ said the statute of limitations for such claims is three years after the victim turns 18.
O’Brien twice won motions before Boniello for permission to serve a late notice of claim on the school district.
The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court rejected the district’s appeals, and the State Court of Appeals refused to accept the cases.
The incidents involving Lorich and the girls in his classes occurred in Meadow Elementary School between May 1999 and December 2000.
O’Brien said the victim he represents was 8 when Lorich fondled her “before school, during school and after school.”
Russ said, “The issue in this case, as in the others, was whether the district knew or should have known.”
O‘Brien said his client was fondled during class, as Lorich used to sit in a large armchair in his classroom and read the children stories.
“He would have one of the kids sit beside him,” the attorney said.
Lorich denied abusing this particular girl, although that seems to depend on how one defines sexual abuse.
“At his deposition, Lorich said he didn’t abuse her; he was grooming her to abuse later,” O’Brien said.
“For all his faults, Lorich has been consistent over the years about the girls he abused and the girls he did not abuse,” Russ said. “The grooming behavior arguably constitutes inappropriate touching. He denies more serious abuse.”
Lorich, now 40, settled the criminal case in 2001 by pleading guilty to six counts of first-degree sexual abuse.
He was paroled in January 2010, returned to prison as a parole violator in February 2011, and was freed again Aug. 1, 2012, according to the state prison website.
O’Brien said his client, the second one he has successfully represented in suits over Lorich’s crimes, is attending college.
“Her career goal is to become a nurse who works with victims of sexual abuse,” O’Brien said. “She wants to invest (the settlement) so she can pay for the nursing school she needs. … She’s handling this very maturely.”
The only lawsuit that remains open was filed by a young woman who is represented by attorney Richard G. Abbott.