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New payout for Miramonte Elementary students who claim abuse by teachers

Los Angeles school officials have agreed to pay an additional $4.5 million to former Miramonte Elementary students who claimed they were abused by teachers at the campus.

The decision raises the total of settlements paid in the case to nearly $175 million, the most the district has ever paid in claims related to  sexual misconduct. Former teacher Mark Berndt, who was arrested in 2012, is serving a 25-year sentence for lewd actions with children.

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In a related development, the school system on Wednesday sued insurance companies, seeking $200 million to cover costs related to the Miramonte abuse.

The latest payout to alleged victims arises out of the first wave of settlements, which totaled $30 million and provided $470,000 to each alleged victim.

That agreement, dated Feb. 22, 2013, stated that the settlement was an extra large "premium" amount, which was provided because these families were the first to resolve their cases.

But a subsequent wave of plaintiffs received more money -- about $1.7 million per child, said attorney Luis Carrillo, who represented students who were part of the later settlement.

Fifty-eight alleged Miramonte victims asserted that the district was obligated to provide more money than they originally settled for.

They made their case in paperwork filed with the district in February 2015.

In that filing, the group stated its demand for "additional monies due … so that the settlement amounts of their Miramonte claims will be equal to the settlement amounts of the later-settled Miramonte claims."

The result could have translated to an additional liability of more than $70 million if the district had to make up the difference.

The $4.5-million figure represented a compromise.

"The well-being of the district's students is a high priority for us," said L.A. Unified general counsel, David R. Holmquist. "We are pleased to have reached a resolution ... that is sensitive to the welfare of the students and resolves their claims responsibly."

Attorneys representing the dissatisfied families were not immediately available.

Among the claims, 51 were related to misconduct by Berndt. Seven others concerned alleged misconduct by former teacher Martin Springer. The L.A. County district attorney's office dropped charges against Springer in 2014 after the one alleged victim set to testify -- about alleged inappropriate touching -- decided not to participate in the prosecution.

Springer eventually resigned his teaching position after the district pursued his dismissal.

The district opened a new legal front on Miramonte with its attempt to go after insurers, alleging that 27 companies owe a combined $200 million to cover Miramonte settlements and attorneys fees.

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Holmquist said the district has kept the companies abreast of the settlement process, including during early stages of the litigation. Even so, he said, the companies refused to pay the district's valid claims.

"We were expecting them at the time to contribute toward the settlements and they failed to do so and left us with no alternative but to file suit," Holmquist said.

Holmquist said costs continue to rise as the district contends with a handful of remaining Miramonte lawsuits.

"We buy insurance so that we'll have coverage," said Holmquist, adding that the premiums have cost $4 million to $5 million annually. "Everybody who has insurance can relate to this."

In an earlier legal filing, insurance companies contended that they have met their obligations to L.A. Unified.

Twitter: @howardblume @zahiratorres

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