A Pike County, Pennsylvania judge awarded a woman $6 million in damages for psychological trauma she suffered as a result of being sexually assaulted when she was in third grade. Thomas Harvey Matthews, a former teacher at the Shohola Elementary School in the Delaware Valley School District, sexually abused the now-23-year-old woman during the 1998-1999 school year, which resulted in an $815,000 settlement with the school district. The woman’s attorney filed suit against Matthews in 2010, and in December 2012 Judge Gregory Chalak ruled that Matthews was liable for the woman’s psychological injuries. After a hearing last October to determine damages, Chalak decided to award the woman $3 million in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages.
The woman may have a hard time collecting the damages, though. Matthews, who is currently serving an 11½ -24 year sentence for the sexual abuse, likely will not be able to pay the $6 million verdict, and it is unclear whether the woman will be entitled to his pension. At the time Matthews was convicted, Pennsylvania’s pension forfeiture law did not require teachers who were convicted of abusing students to give up their pensions. The law changed in 2009 but the changes were not retroactive. The victim’s attorney will try to get Matthews’s pension and it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
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