BOCA RATON, Fla. -- After watching video of Boca Raton student Alex Palermo getting punched, a Palm Beach County jury Tuesday put all blame for the bus beating on the School Board.
At the end of a two-day civil trial, the jury found the board negligent for the April 6, 2010 attack and awarded damages of $158,611 to the Palermo family.
State law caps the award at $100,000, but the plaintiffs were delighted with the verdict.
"We're happy the jury was able to render justice for Alex," said Dan Williams, attorney for the family.
During the trial, the plaintiffs claimed the bus driver failed to prevent the violence, captured on a video from the school bus as driver Wescot Desrosiers took the kids home in the late afternoon.
"There's nobody there for Alex," Williams told jurors of the driver's failure to protect the victim. "You need to control the situation before it escalates."
As the song "The Scientist" by Coldplay blared through the buses speakers, Palermo, then 13, is shown getting hit three times in the head in rapid succession by another student as other riders watched. There was taunting leading up to the punches, and gum stuck in Palermo's hair and wet fingers placed in his ears.
Palermo, who was in eighth grade at Boca Raton Middle School at the time of the incident, was diagnosed with a fractured eye socket and a concussion.
Kim Palermo told jurors that her son required emergency surgery to fix a muscle that was caught in the broken orbital bone, preventing the eyeball to have full movement and causing a lot of pain.
The School Board's attorney, Kathryn McHale, argued the bus driver did his job keeping control over the rowdy students, as well as warning the student who hit Alex Palermo, before the beating.
The defense also said Palermo was at least partly responsible for getting hit, because he was confrontational.
During about two hours of deliberations, the jury of four women and two men asked to watch another showing of the video from the bus. It played for about 28 minutes and shows a packed bus, with kids singing to music and Alex more than 10 rows behind the driver.
The verdict calls for the School Board to pay Palermo's medical bills of $33,611, past pain and suffering damages of $75,000, and future pain and suffering damages of $50,000.
Palermo, now 16 and a junior in high school, suffers from occasional double and blurry vision and permanent numbness in part of his face but does not need more medical care for this claim, Williams said.
Kim Palermo said her son, who is autistic, usually keeps to himself in his bedroom and "doesn't like conflict."
While he continues to get good grades and hopes for a career as a history professor, the ordeal left him with a fear of buses.
"I probably wouldn't allow him to go on one anyway," she said.
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