TRENTON, N.J. – A former high school student who says he got HIV from a sexual relationship with his band teacher can sue the school district even though he missed a legal deadline, an appeals court panel ruled Monday.
The former student, identified only as R.L. in court documents, learned early last year that he was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
He had three months to initiate legal action but didn't file a claim against the Newark school district and school officials until October.
A lower court judge, citing extraordinary circumstances, had granted R.L. the right to file a tort claim, a lawsuit precursor required when suing a public entity. The Newark school district appealed, but the appeals panel upheld the lower court ruling.
"My client is just waiting for his day in court. It's the only way he's going to find a measure of justice for these wrongs that were inflicted upon him," said R.L.'s attorney, Richard W. Carlson.
Newark school district attorney Matthew J. Tharney couldn't be immediately reached for comment Monday.
R.L. graduated from a Newark high school in 2004, four years after first alleging his band teacher touched him "in a sexual manner," according to court documents. He reported the incidents to his guardian, his aunt, who enrolled him in another high school in another city. But he returned to Newark before his sophomore year.
During his junior and senior years, the teacher allegedly invited him to an apartment where he gave the student alcohol and drugs until a month before graduation.
After he found out he had HIV in May 2005, R.L. reported the teacher's conduct to the Newark school board and police department.
R.L. requested permission to file a late tort claim on Oct. 7 after a newspaper reported the teacher had been hired by a different school district. The teacher was later suspended with pay by the new district.
"Following his diagnosis, R.L. was very distressed," Monday's ruling states. "He was hesitant to reveal his HIV status and was unaware of the legal requirements."
The appeals court wrote: "R.L. was two months short of his nineteenth birthday when he learned that he had been injured as a consequence of his teacher's conduct. The unexpected news was that he had a condition that not only can lead to death but also carries a stigma."
The Essex County Prosecutor Office's child abuse unit is now investigating the teacher, said assistant prosecutor Mark Oli.
"It's an active investigation by the prosecutor's office and the matter will be presented to the grand jury," Oli said.