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Jacksonville Attorney Files Suit Alleging More Abuse At Deaf Academy

A Jacksonville attorney is representing three families on a growing list of plaintiffs alleging abuse and neglect at a Central Florida school for deaf and autistic students.The families of three children filed suit earlier this week in Duval County against the National Deaf Academy in Mount Dora and operator Universal Health Services Inc.
Bruce Maxwell with Jacksonville law firm Terrell Hogan represents the parents of the students, who he said were all in their teens and all live outside Duval County. Each teen stayed at the facility for a period ranging from four months to about a year and a half, he said.

“They were subjected to varying forms of neglect, abuse, malnourishment, unsanitary conditions,” he said.

The suits filed Monday each list a host of allegations ranging from failing to protect the minor victims from physical harm to “improperly using physical or chemical restraints” and allowing the victims to “observe pornographic materials or illicit sexually oriented materials on a regular basis.”
All three families live outside of Duval County, Maxwell said. The school’s parent company Universal Health has an agent located in Duval, which allows the families to file suit in the county, Maxwell said.  

The allegations of abuse against the school first surfaced with an NBC News investigation. Two former school employees told NBC News that they personally saw bruising, black eyes and chokeholds at the facility.

As the parent of a daughter with physical and mental disabilities, Maxwell said he can relate to the situation more than most.

“I deeply feel for all of these families. I’ve gone through personally this same thing myself. My daughter had cerebral palsy very badly and once she attained an older age, physically it becomes impossible for parents to handle,” he said. “She had to be placed in a facility which was very difficult.”

National Deaf Academy CEO Greg Sizemore said in a statement that the facility does not comment on pending or threatened litigation but does intend to defend itself vigorously.

Each family Maxwell represents are seeking damages in the amount of $15,000.

He said expects to file more lawsuits against the school.
“There are three other families that have gotten in touch with me, one of which we’re reasonably certain we’ll be filing suit on and the other two we’re still having to investigate further so this is still a building process,” he said.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.