Judge Says ‘One Incident’ of YDC Abuse Not Reasonable in Meehan Lawsuit

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Defense attorney Martha Gaythwaite, representing the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services at left. David Vicinanzo, representing David Meehan is pictured at right with Judge Andrew Schulman in the background as both sides made their final arguments May 2.

Y.D.C. plaintiff David Meehan testifies as his intake photo from Y.D.C. when he was 14 is displayed in his civil trial at Rockingham Superior Court in Brentwood on Wednesday, April 17. David Lane/Union Leader POOL

InDepthNH.org archives stories about the David Meehan civil case against the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services here: https://indepthnh.org/tag/ydc/. You can find them on the front page green banner under YDC.


BRENTWOOD – New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services says the state is only liable for one incident of abuse at YDC in the David Meehan lawsuit, and therefore only liable to pay $475,000, but Judge Andrew Schulman ruled this week that’s not an option.

“In the court’s view, this would be an obvious miscarriage of justice because the finding of a ‘single incident’ was conclusively against the weight of the evidence,” Schulman wrote.

Both sides are getting ready for a hearing in the dispute over how much the state will pay for the record-setting $38 million verdict awarded to Sununu Youth Services Center survivor Meehan. Last month, the jury found the state liable for the horrific physical and sexual abuse suffered by Meehan while he was a child in state custody.

The jury found the state liable for one incident of engaging in “wanton, malicious, and oppressive conduct” but did not rule on any of the individual acts of abuse Meehan suffered. Meehan’s lawyers want Schulman to rule there were at least 200 incidents of abuse. 

But the state claims that because the jury marked a box on the jury form indicating liability for one incident, the jury’s award must be capped at $475,000. Hours after the verdict became public, and the state’s position that the award ought to be capped made headlines, jurors contacted Meehan’s lawyers stating they did not know about the cap, and were shocked by the state’s position.

After reviewing the testimony and discounting incidents he felt were not proved at trial, Schulman wrote the jury’s $38 million does not make sense if it found only one incident of abuse.

“Simply put: no reasonable jury could have accepted the gist of plaintiff’s testimony, awarded $38 million in damages, and found less than 116 incidents,” Schulman wrote.

In his order, Schulman blamed the jury instructions he wrote as being too vague and causing confusion. To remedy this impasse, Schulman proposes a hearing in which he would determine the number of incidents of abuse proved at trial for which the $475,000 would be applied. This is the least “incorrect” option Schulman writes that he would propose to deal with the verdict dispute.

According to the math Schulman used in his order, there’s somewhere between 155 and 103 separate incidents of abuse that a jury could have found proved based on the trial testimony. Schulman proposed Meehan’s lawyers and lawyers for the state agree to the 103 number of abuse incidents.

The hearing in the case is set for June 24.

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