Former Mansfield Christian School Student Wins Confidential Settlement in Sexual Abuse Case

Mansfield, Ohio – A settlement has been reached in the case involving a former student of Mansfield Christian School who alleged she was groomed and sexually abused by a former assistant softball coach. The terms of the settlement remain confidential, according to attorney Kaela King of the Columbus law firm Cooper Elliott. Mariah Stearns, the plaintiff, filed a civil suit against Mansfield Christian School and Superintendent Cy Smith.

King expressed Mariah’s satisfaction with the outcome and commended her for speaking up. However, she declined to provide further comment. The defendants’ attorney, Craig Pelini, and Smith were unavailable for comment. The trial was scheduled to begin in Richland County Common Pleas Court before Judge Phil Naumoff.

Stearns attended Mansfield Christian School from 2010 to 2014. In her complaint, she stated that the sexual abuse began when she was 14 years old, and the assistant softball coach was 27. She accused the school and Superintendent Smith of neglecting their duty to protect her by failing to report, warn, or prevent the abusive relationship.

According to attorney Adam Richards, who represented Stearns, the defendants responded to the abuse allegations by shaming Mariah about her sexuality, rather than taking appropriate steps to address the situation. The complaint included four counts: negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, infliction of emotional distress, and punitive damages.

The complaint also highlighted the ongoing struggles Stearns faces as a result of the abuse. She requires extensive treatment, and her wife dedicates her time to care for her. Richards argued that the school administration, including Smith, was aware of the inappropriate relationship but failed to take appropriate action.

The complaint stated that the coach took advantage of Stearns’ difficult home life to establish a close relationship with her. Despite the school’s policy prohibiting students and coaches from being alone together, several Mansfield Christian personnel were aware that Stearns and the coach often drove alone together without intervening.

Stearns developed an unhealthy attachment to the coach, confiding in her and spending increasing amounts of time together. The complaint alleged that multiple instances of sexual encounters occurred between them, and further misconduct took place during team sleepovers where they would sleep together in the same bed.

Richards emphasized that Stearns was trapped in the relationship due to fear of consequences such as being kicked off the softball team or expelled from the school. The abuse lasted for three and a half years.

Due to the defendants’ duty to protect students, Naumoff, the judge, ruled that any suspected grooming behavior leading to sexual abuse should be immediately reported to safeguard potential victims. The defendants argued that Smith acted reasonably and that the damages sought by Stearns were not reasonably foreseeable. However, Naumoff overruled their motion for summary judgment.

In his ruling, Naumoff emphasized that the school and Smith had a legal obligation to protect not only Stearns but also other students. The judge found that there was evidence to support the claim that the defendants behaved outrageously and exhibited a conscious disregard for Mariah’s rights and safety.

The emotional and psychological impacts of the abuse continue to affect Mariah, leading to depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. She attends weekly therapy sessions and relies on prescription medications to cope with emotional difficulties. The settlement’s details are undisclosed, but the resolution of the case provides some closure for Mariah Stearns in her pursuit of justice.

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