New Berlin School Board Lawsuit Over Sexual Abuse Allowed to Move Forward

By Benjamin Cox on January 8, 2021 at 7:15pm

Illinois sex abuse victims in a school district can now file suit more than 2 decades after an incident. The Illinois 4th District Appellate Court panel affirmed a Sangamon County judge’s decision to deny a dismissal bid lodged by Board of Education of the New Berlin Community Unit School District No. 16 in a suit accusing a former teacher of sexually abusing an underage female student over a four-year period ending in 1989.

The ruling upholds 7th Circuit Judge Gail Noll’s ruling from March 2019 that the New Berlin Board of Education can be sued for conduct committed by former teacher Carroll Owen Smith.

The original lawsuit, which was filed in September 2018 alleges that former New Berlin student Michelle Forbes was sexually abused by Smith between 1985 and 1989 and coerced to engage in acts of sexual grooming and sexual abuse against her while she was a juvenile. Forbes is seeking in excess of $50,000 for personal, pecuniary, and emotional damages received from the incidents.

According to the official court filings, all of these actions took place on the grounds of New Berlin High School and at Smith’s residence in Jacksonville, and the abuse by Smith continued throughout Forbes’ high school career.

The lawsuit filed by Forbes also raised allegations against New Berlin Community Unit School District 16, stating that district employees were apparently aware of the relationship and did not intervene. The lawsuit adds that the district took no action to tell Forbes’ parents, remove Carroll Owen Smith from the school, or alert law enforcement in any capacity.

Smith worked at New Berlin High School from 1982 until his retirement in 2005 and was a teacher, coach, and athletic director at the school.

With the ruling now as precedent by the Appellate Court, abuse victims around the state can now seek damages beyond the 1-year statutory time limit that was previously imposed.